The devastating wildfires in New Mexico fueled by strong winds are visible from space.
New satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies has captured a portion of the 200,000 acres burning associated with the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fires east of Santa Fe. On Monday (May 9), the New York Times listed this set of fires as New Mexico as the largest active wildfire in the United States; according to a collection of state agencies, the fire was nearly 30% contained as of May 13.
Going into observations, the Maxar staff wanted to capture three types of images to see different aspects of the fire: natural color, color infrared, and shortwave infrared.
Related: Astronaut watches California wildfires spew smoke from space (photos)
Infrared images allow satellites to map the fire’s heat signature, which can help researchers make predictions about the wildfire’s path. Shortwave infrared can “penetrate through smoke and detect active lines of fire and hot spots,” Maxar officials wrote. During a fire, hot spots are especially crucial to address, if possible, to contain the spread.
“Using color infrared satellite imagery, healthy trees and vegetation appear in shades of red/pink, while burned areas appear in shades of black/gray,” Maxar said of the images.
“With SWIR [shortwave infrared] satellite imagery, Maxar’s imaging sensor can penetrate through smoke and detect active lines of fire and hot spots, which appear to glow orange/yellow,” the staff added. “Burnt vegetation appears rusty/orange in SWIR images. “
Wildfires are becoming more devastating and powerful around the world amid global warming. Record fires were recorded in 2021 on at least continents.
One of the tools with which we monitor these wildfires is through the use of Earth observation satellites, including those operated by private companies and by governments. The objective is to transmit information as quickly as possible to decision-makers on the ground to guide response measures and help affected populations.
Some companies try to analyze a part of the data through methods such as machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to find the most relevant information to transmit it even faster.
Widespread wildfires are not only detrimental to local populations, but fire-related greenhouse gas emissions and landscape devastation can have long-term consequences for the environment.