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NASA Data on Plant ‘Sweating’ Could Help Predict Wildfire Severity


Smoke rises from the Bobcat Fire, which burned more than 115,000 acres (46,539 hectares) in Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains in 2020. In the months before the fire, NASA’s ECOSTRESS passed over the area aboard the International Space Station, collecting data on plant water use. Credit: NASA Even in drought-stricken California, not all areas face the same degree of wildfire risk. A recent study featuring data from NASA’s ECOSTRESS mission found relationships between the intensity of a wildfire and the water stress in plants measured in the months before the blaze. The correlations weren’t just a matter of dry plants burning more than hydrated ones; some areas where vegetation had sufficient water burned more severely, possibly because fires had more fuel to consume.

The research, led by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, draws on plant water-use data collected by ECOSTRESS , short for the ECOsystem and Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station. The instrument measures the temperature of plants as they heat up when they run out of water. For this study, researchers focused on data collected during portions of 2019 and early 2020 over six areas – three in Southern California mountains and three […]

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