More on the Western U.S. Wildfires

NASA Earth Observatory

NASA Earth Observatory has had several stories on the western U.S. wildfires, gathered here. This story summarizes the situation; satellite images of the smoke generated by the fires can be seen here, here and here.

Marena Brinkhurst of Mapbox has a comprehensive list of open data sources relating to the wildfires, smoke, and air quality.

Mark Altaweel at GIS Lounge looks at how GIS is being used to map wildfires, smoke and air pollution.

Previously: California Wildfires, 2020 Edition.

Tracking Amazon Fires

Last year saw an uptick in fire activity in the Amazon basin. This year a new tool has been released that aims to help classify the fires being observed. The Amazon Dashboard classifies each fire as a deforestation fire, a savanna fire, a small clearing and agricultural fire, or an understory forest fire, and tracks whether the fire is in a protected or indigenous territory. NASA Earth Observatory:

The fire analysis tool is already bringing new clarity and insight to the 2020 fire season. In July, Brazil announced a 120-day ban on fires in the Amazon rainforest; it was presented as an effort to limit ecological damage from fires this year. However, the NASA-led fire analysis indicates that there has been a proliferation of fires in key deforestation hotspots in the southern Amazon states of Pará, Mato Grosso, and Amazonas.

Previously: Mapping the Amazon Fires.

California Wildfires, 2020 Edition

NOAA/ESRL

Wildfire status tracking. The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services posts a daily map showing the status of active wildfires in the state. It’s basically a one-page PDF you can print and hand out: decidedly old school and not remotely interactive. The New York Times has a series of maps tracking the various wildfire complexes. See also the Los Angeles Times interactive wildfires map, the address of which will probably work next year too. [Maps Mania/Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs]

Forecasting. NOAA’s High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) atmospheric model includes an experimental smoke forecast. It and other smoke and fire models are available as hourly static images (see above) or via this interactive map. [Maps Mania/UWCIMSS]

Google is adding wildfire boundaries to Search and Maps: it will provide warnings to nearby users and have an impact on driving directions. [Engadget/TechCrunch/The Verge]

Mapping the Amazon Fires

Let’s start with the current situation map from Brazil’s own space agency, the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espacias (INPE), which I’m surprised is still online. In July Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, accused the widely respected agency of lying about the scale of deforestation in the Amazon; INPE’s chief, Ricardo Galvão, was forced out earlier this month after defending the agency. After that, INPE said that fires were up 84 percent over the same period last year. (The ESA, for its part, tracked nearly four times as many fires in August as they did last year.)

Other raw data sources include the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), fire activity data from which can be viewed here; and MODIS data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. For a live feed of MODIS data on the Amazon fires, see the MODIS Wildfire Dashboard.

NASA

Meanwhile, NASA’s Earth Observatory posted MODIS imagery of several Amazon fires, and had this curious statement that seemed to minimize the scale of the problem: “As of August 16, 2019, an analysis of NASA satellite data indicated that total fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average in comparison to the past 15 years. […] Though activity appears to be above average in the states of Amazonas and Rondônia, it has so far appeared below average in Mato Grosso and Pará, according to estimates from the Global Fire Emissions Database, a research project that compiles and analyzes NASA data.”

A subsequent NASA Earth Observatory post seems to contradict the one I mentioned earlier, pointing to “a noticeable increase in large, intense, and persistent fires burning along major roads in the central Brazilian Amazon” which “are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought” and noted fire detections “higher across the Brazilian Amazon” since 2010.

Contextualizing the amount of fires seems to be a recurring theme in the reporting: the number of fires are up sharply over last year, but close to the average when taking a longer view. It’s helped a lot of bad and insincere actors make it harder to get to the heart of what’s going on over there. They can’t, after all, deny the satellite imagery or the remote sensing: we can see the fires. We can detect the emissions of smoke, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide (1, 2, 3). We can map them. And those maps can help us understand what’s going on.

On the NGO front, InfoAmazonia has produced the above map comparing fires over the last 24 hours with historical fire data. (They have other maps on this subject as well.)

Note, too, the reference above to burning along major roads. Tim Wallace crunches MODIS date from 2012 onward and teases out some patterns in the fires.

The New York Times

And the New York Times, where Tim used to work, has a map correlating the position of the current Amazon fires along the edges of past deforestation. The Times also has maps showing maps on a month-by-month basis and comparing August 2019 with the August average over the past decade.

[CityLab, Maps Mania]

U.S. Wildfire Causes, 1980-2016

Jill Hubley has mapped the causes of wildfires in the United States from 1980 to 2016, based on Federal Wildland Fire Occurrence Data. The map toggles between main causes (human and natural) and specific cause; there’s also a chart ranking the causes.

The highest and lowest ranked causes are highlighted when the chart loads. These represent the cumulative ranking across all years. Lightning, a natural cause, often floats to the top, but that’s only because on the human side, the vote is split between more than twenty options. Lightning doesn’t predominate in all states, though. In Alabama, the number one cause is pyromania. In Indiana, it’s brakeshoes. In Minnesota, it’s field burning. There are a couple of overall trends, too. Smoking is going down as a cause, and powerlines are going up.

[CityLab/Benjamin Hennig]

How to Build a Fire Map

Last October Robin Kraft posted an online map of the northern California wildfires showing satellite imagery from before and after the fires (see previous entry); today he’s posted a blog entry explaining how he built it, in great technical detail. The timing is not accidental: “There is another fire raging in Los Angeles right now — if DigitalGlobe and Planet release their data, you can use this guide to make your own map.”

California Wildfires: Mapping Sonoma County

Sonoma County’s wildfire information page points to a number of useful maps: fire perimeter boundary maps, current evacuation areas, road closures, rapid evaluation safety assessment (RESA) maps. The City of Santa Rosa’s emergency information page also has maps specific to that city; Heavy also has a roundup. See also Cal Fire’s structural status information map. [The Mercury News]

Previously: Mapping the Northern California Wildfires.

Mapping the Northern California Wildfires

NASA Earth Observatory
NASA Earth Observatory

Maps and satellite imagery of the wildfires in Northern California include the San Francisco Chronicle’s interactive map; Robin Kraft’s interactive map  showing satellite imagery from before and after the fire; this New York Times page mapping building damage in Santa Rosa; the Washington Post’s coverage of the devastation; and NASA Earth Observatory’s images of the smoke plumes here and here.

Where Disaster Strikes

Where Disaster Strikes: Modern Space and the Visualization of Destruction, an exhibition of disaster maps, is taking place now until 19 April at Harvard’s Pusey Library.

Floods, fires, earthquakes, volcanoes, bombings, droughts, and even alien invasions: disaster can take many forms. And, although disasters are always felt dramatically, a disaster’s form and location impacts who records its effects and what forms those records take. “Where Disaster Strikes” investigates the intertwined categories of modern space and disaster through the Harvard Map Collection’s maps of large destructive events from the London Fire to the present.

Open to the public. The exhibition also has a substantial online presence.

Smoke and Smog

Sediment, Smoke, and Stained Ice in Quebec

Forest fires near Eastmain, Quebec had a dramatic impact on air quality around here last week; I woke up hacking and wondering why. (Air filters to maximum!) The above photo, taken by the MODIS sensor aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite on June 28, gives some idea of the situation on the eastern shores of James Bay. (The photo also shows a brown-stained James Bay, the result of tannin-stained water from bogs spilling into the bay in spring.) Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.