Remote Sensing of Wildfires

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Overview

Wildfires are a natural and essential part of our ecosystem, recycling soil nutrients and renewing healthy forests. In Alaska, around one million acres (4000 km2) burn every year, and record years have seen as many as six million acres burned. Most of these fires are allowed to spread naturally.

However, when wildfires occur near population centers, they can be a serious threat to the safety and well-being of people. Recent disastrous fire seasons in Alaska, California, and Australia have shown how communities near forests, in what is known as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), are increasingly at risk due to hotter and drier summer weather caused by climate change.

In the fight to protect these communities, remote sensing technology has become essential. Wildfire analysts use satellite imagery and powerful computer programs to predict fire risk, detect fires early, and monitor their spread. After a wildfire is extinguished, remote sensing is used to analyze the impact of a fire and to guide sustainable restoration efforts.

Participants in this course will learn about remote sensing of wildfires from instructors at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, located in one of the world’s most active wildfire zones. Students will learn about wildfire behavior, and get hands-on experience with tools and resources used by professionals to create geospatial maps that support firefighters on the ground.

Upon completion, students will be able to:

  • Access web resources that provide near real-time updates on active wildfires
  • Navigate databases of remote sensing imagery and data
  • Analyze geospatial data to detect fire hot spots, map burn areas, and assess severity
  • Process image and GIS data in open source tools like QGIS and Google Earth Engine

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