Research projects

NASA GWIS Research Projects: Answering the Call of the Wildfire

What would humanity be without the discovery of fire? Heat, lighting, and protection from nocturnal predators were made possible once humans became familiar with flames. Now, this friend of mankind’s earliest ancestors is arguably turning into a foe as severe wildfires become more frequent around the world. Warmer temperatures and drier conditions caused by Earth’s changing climate can accelerate the spread of fires and make them harder to control.

The use of Earth observation data offers unique perspectives and insight. Three projects funded by NASA’s Earth Science Applied Sciences Disasters program area to enhance the Earth Observation Group (GEO) have focused on forest fires, in particular the Global Forest Fire Information System (GWIS) – an initiative between NASA and the European Union (EU). GEO is a global network connecting hundreds of government, academic and commercial institutions, data providers, engineers and scientists to use coordinated, comprehensive and sustained Earth observations for the benefit of humanity. The GWIS enables improved wildfire prevention, preparedness and the effectiveness of wildfire management by bringing together existing information sources at regional and national levels to provide a comprehensive view and assessment of forest fire regimes. fire and their global effects. Users can access this data and services through a Web interface.

The enhancement of GWIS under GEO has been achieved through three main projects, each enhancing different aspects of GWIS and expanding distribution and ease of use for stakeholders. While each focused on specific elements of GWIS and its functionality, all focused on collaboration, end-user accessibility and underserved countries, to improve fire management globally.

One project, led by Principal Investigator (PI) Louis Giglio and Co-Investigator (Co-I) Wilfred Shroeder, focuses on the “development of a harmonized global multi-sensor active fire dataset.” The project has enhanced the usability of geostationary data collected around the world. This data includes data collected on Japan’s Himawari satellites, Europe’s Meteosat satellites, and NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system. These weather satellites provide observations at intervals of 5 to 15 minutes. However, they were not designed to observe fires, despite their effectiveness in locating fire starts all over the world. So Giglio and Schroeder worked to provide a holistic data product to help observe these fires. This involved combining many different sensor systems for what is “essentially, a mashup of data spanning the globe,” says Vincent Ambrosia, who works with project PIs, overseeing the three GWIS projects.

Example of GWIS country profile pages, illustrating the GUI and graphs and charts generated for an example country (Central African Republic). Simple drop-down menus and sliders allow users to select the area of ​​interest and time reporting period. Credits: NASA / GWIS

Another of the projects, led by PI Luigi Boschetti and Co-I David Roy, focuses on “using NASA’s Polar Orbit Fires Product Brief to improve and expand the global fire information system.” of forest”. This project takes existing data in GWIS, which is linked to NASA’s Medium Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) archives the data and makes this data available to any country for them to use and easily create statistics for their own reporting purposes. These reports can include historical fire occurrences or current fire status, and are used by federal agencies, state agencies, regional entities, the United Nations (UN), and others. The data can be used in real time and comes with visualization capabilities accessible to scientists and non-scientists alike. Ambrosia provides a practical example: “A researcher studying carbon monitoring in Ecuador can go back and look at fire history from MODIS data, going back to the early 2000s…and create statistics or graphic packages, bar graphs, etc., showing the number of fires or the area consumed from one year to the next” for reporting to the UN or their own assessments in the country.

Total number of active fire detections for the summer validation period (01/07/2020 - 01/10/2020) derived from harmonized geostationary satellite products.  The harmonized gridded product can be used to monitor hourly, daily, seasonal and annual fire activity.  Credits: NASA/University of Maryland/NOAA
Total number of active fire detections for the summer validation period (01/07/2020 – 01/10/2020) derived from harmonized geostationary satellite products. The harmonized gridded product can be used to monitor hourly, daily, seasonal and annual fire activity. Credits: NASA / University of Maryland / NOAA

Ambrosia also highlights the need for these tools and data for nations around the world that currently do not have easy access to Earth observation data. It describes the high level of collaboration and the long-standing relationship that NASA has with the Joint Research Center (JRC) in Ispra, Italy. The JRC manages the GWIS, with contributions from the global GWIS community, in particular from the United States, Canada and the UN.

The third project had two main goals: to improve the learning experience for GWIS users and to enable access to consistent fire risk data around the world. For the project “Improvements in the Global Forest Fire Information System: Fire Danger Rating and Applications in Indonesia”, project PI Robert Field brought to bear many years of collaborative research experience in Indonesia to provide relevant and useful fire danger assessment training and information. Systems (FDRS) and Fire Weather Index (FWI). The work helps Indonesia improve the management of its own fire systems, as well as many other countries, particularly in Latin America,

Fires rage in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia in this 2015 photo. Credit: Rini Sulaiman/CIFOR Creative Commons License by-nc-nd/2.0/
Fires rage in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia in this photo from 2015. Credits: Rini Sulaiman / CIFOR Creative Commons License by-nc-nd/2.0/

Field is also working on fire fuel modeling, known as fire weather index modeling, which he has incorporated into GWIS. Field’s model complements the European and Canadian models already used in GWIS with an American/NASA model. Each provides slightly different capabilities, offering a range of tools that countries can use as appropriate for their specific fire management needs.

Ambrosia highlights how close collaboration between researchers from NASA, EU, Canada and other partners has been key to all three projects, each of which has contributed to significant advances in the disaster management community. fires. An exciting new advancement includes Giglio’s validation and verification of weather satellite data that has been integrated into GWIS. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has recognized these efforts and advancements and is currently working with NASA to integrate GOES weather satellite fire detection data into the Resource Management Fire Information System (COMPANIES) – a near real-time active fire detection data tool that uses MODIS and VIIRS data. This replaces an older USFS system, the Active Fire Mapping System, which also relied on MODIS and VIIRS data. It has spurred new collaborations and efforts across the United States, providing continuous fire updates at 1-5 minute intervals, near real time.

Each of these projects has had great success in their implementations and enhancements of GWIS, which is “a long-standing web mapping service that the global community has been using for about 15 years now,” Ambrosia beams. He also points out that training resources are available to all GWIS users worldwide. Improving the ability of underserved countries to generate their own accurate fire statistics instead of relying on “estimates” is a priority. With GWIS and the improvements made by these three projects, “they get verifiable observations that are derived in near real time on their statistics.” Modeling efforts, such as Field’s, also provide insight into the near future via 7-9 day fire forecasts, which is beneficial “to us in the United States and around the world,” adds Ambrosia.

Fire has played an important role in humans’ past, and with the obvious cooperation of this trio of projects, wildfires will be better managed in humanity’s future.

Additional contributions to the story were made by NASA disaster science writing intern Sierra Steele.