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NASA satellites eye forest fires

New software developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., helps link NASA’s Earth science satellites together to form a virtual web of sensors with the ability to monitor the globe far better than individual satellites. An imaging instrument flying on one satellite can detect a fire or other hazard, and automatically instruct a different satellite that has the ability to take more detailed pictures to take a closer look. If the images show that a potential hazard does exist, the responding satellite provides data to ground controllers, who then report the fire to forest officials and to an interested science team.

This is a first step to enabling users of satellite remote sensing data to specify the kind of data they want, such as forest fires or floods.One of the core components in this collaborative effort is the Science Goal Monitor system being developed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The system enables scientists to specify what to look for and how to react in descriptive rather than technical terms. Then the system monitors science streams of data to identify occurrences of the key events previously specified by the scientist. Using the sensor web method, investigators no longer have to rely on after-the-fact data analysis to determine what happened. The information can be used to rapidly respond to hazardous events such as forest fires. When that information comes back to a scientist for interpretation, it is made available to forest officials to determine the appropriate response. The satellite sensor web demonstration is a collaborative effort between JPL and the Goddard Space Flight Center.