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Spotlight: ESA Eyes Forest-Fire Prevention

By | August 2, 2004

      Woodland blazes burning with a core heat approaching 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit also can spread as fast as 328 feet per minute, bringing swift and sure devastation. In an effort to mitigate that risk, the European Space Agency (ESA) is using satellite imagery to monitor forest-fire damage to areas most prone to future outbreaks. Last year’s long, hot summer was a bumper year for forest fires, with more than 200,000 acres of woodland destroyed across Mediterranean Europe. So far this year, fresh fires have occurred in Portugal, Spain and southern France. Roughly 2,500 people were evacuated from blazes in the foothills north of Marseille, France.

      The European Commission estimates that each acre of forest lost to fire costs Europe’s economy between $2,400 and $6,000. The distinctive ‘burn scars’ left across the land by forest fires can be identified from space as a specific reddish-brown spectral signature from a false-color composite of spectral bands from optical sensors in the short- wavelength-infrared, near-infrared and visible channels.

      A new ESA-backed, Earth Observation-based service is using satellite imagery from SPOT and Landsat to automatically detect the 2004 burn scars within fire-prone areas of France, Italy and Spain. Burn-scar detection would take place on a seasonal basis to identify fires covering at least two acres to a standard resolution of 98 feet, with detailed damage assessment available to a maximum resolution of 8 feet using the SPOT 5 satellite. –Paul Dykewicz

      (Mariangela D’Acunto, European Space Agency, 011 39 069 418 0856)

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