Page from the new North Australian Fire
Information website—see link below
Satellites have been providing people
with images of bushfires from space for years, but data was usually
updated infrequently and used by government agencies or large
companies. Now, advances in web and satellite technology mean fires
can be monitored soon after they are detected—by anybody with
a reasonable internet connection writes Peter Jacklyn .
One of the first websites to offer satellite-based views of fire
to the public was developed by Western Australia’s Department
of Land Assessment in the late 90s. It showed simple maps of
‘hotspots’—the location of suspected
fires—as seen by each satellite pass. Hotspots were
calculated from images provided by American weather satellites
(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA).
Although designed to measure things like cloud and sea
temperatures, instruments on NOAA satellites could locate fires to
within about four square kilometres.
In the last few years, however, NASA has launched two
satellites, Aqua and Terra, specifically designed to monitor the
earth’s surface. One of the detectors they carry is the
Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) which can be
used to locate burning fires to within about a square kilometre.
The new NASA satellites, together with the NOAA satellites, can now
provide a few readings a day, making it possible to monitor fires
in close to real time (cloud cover permitting). Recent advances in
web technology now allow hotspots to be placed on interactive
web-based maps, where users can zoom in, display detailed map
features, and query hotspots for their time of detection.
Last year CSIRO, the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation
and Geoscience Australia developed the Sentinel website that used
MODIS data to display hotspots on an interactive map. The site is
aimed largely at emergency services which need to respond to fires
quickly. The site shows hotspots detected at various times over the
most recent three days. WA’s Department of Land Information
(DLI) also has a site that shows hotspots and fire histories from
both MODIS and NOAA on an interactive map.
The latest interactive fire mapping website is the North
Australian Fire Information or NAFI site, developed by Tropical
Savannas CRC and Ecobyte Systems in collaboration with the Bush
Fires Council NT, Kimberley Regional Fire Management Project and
the Cape York Peninsula Development Association. It is designed to
meet the needs of northern rural and remote fire managers and uses
hotspot data supplied by Sentinel and WA DLI.
Remote fire managers not only want to know where fires are
burning now, but what areas have already been burnt as recently
burned areas can be used as fire breaks. The NAFI site allows users
to see hotspots from all months of the year as well as recent
The site also shows fire scars which are hand-mapped from
satellite images and put onto the site every few weeks. Users can
also navigate to different map locations by clicking on text links
rather than zooming in on images. Customised
‘quicklooks’ can also be created that deliver a compact
image of fires in an area with one mouse click.
Developers are also providing back-up fire information such as
emails and faxes of hotspot locations.