PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Mary A. Hardin
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASENovember 13, 1996
NASA AIRBORNE SENSOR STUDIES MALIBU BRUSH FIRE AREA
Vegetation maps of the Santa Monica Mountains produced from
a NASA airborne sensor, taken before and after the 1996
Calabasas/Malibu brush fire, are helping scientists improve
predictions of fire hazards in the area and may one day reduce
the risk of catastrophic fires.
The maps of chaparral vegetation were created with advanced
measurements from NASA's Airborne Visible and Infra-Red Imaging
Spectrometer (AVIRIS), which was developed and is managed by the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The images were taken on October 17
and October 23. The fire started in Calabasas on October 21 and,
eventually, burned more than 12,000 acres.
"With AVIRIS, we've been working on techniques to use the
spectral information measured by the instrument to map different
vegetation communities in the Santa Monica Mountains," said Dr.
Dar Roberts of the University of California, Santa Barbara. "This
information should improve our ability to assess fire risk and
predict fire behavior, and perhaps could provide more effective
information for planners and agencies concerned with fire
prevention. We can also predict moisture content in the foliage,
which helps us understand how different areas will burn."
The AVIRIS instrument flies aboard a NASA ER-2 airplane.
While being carried 20 kilometers (12 miles) above sea level at a
speed of 730 kilometers per hour (450 miles per hour), the
instrument can take approximately 7,000 measurements per second.
Earth scientists use AVIRIS to conduct research and applications
across a range of scientific disciplines, including ecology,
geology, mineral hazards, snow and ice, coastal and inland
waters, and wild fires.
"This technique of imaging spectroscopy implemented with
AVIRIS represents a fundamental new way of studying the Earth.
We are measuring in detail how light is absorbed or reflected by
various materials on the Earth's surface. In the case of the
Santa Monica Mountains, we are measuring the presence of
molecules such as chlorophyll, leaf water and cellulose. By
measuring these molecules we can map different vegetation types,
vegetation moisture and the overall amount of vegetation, all of
which play a role in predicting wild fire hazards," said Robert
Green, the AVIRIS experiment scientist at JPL.
"The value in repeated flights is that if we have sufficient
information over time, we can presumably build up a very complete
understanding of the links between vegetation patterns and fire
behavior," said Dr. John Gamon, associate professor of biology
and microbiology at California State University, Los Angeles.
"This issue will not go away with a single fire, but will come
back repeatedly to haunt us, as demonstrated by the most recent
burn. It is important to remember that fire is an integral part
of the Southern California ecosystem and is here to stay."
Scientists and fire agencies will use the AVIRIS vegetation
maps and measurements they have taken on the ground to produce
computer models to forecast how and where a fire would burn in
the area. Such information could assist firefighters to prepare
for future fires that reach across both wildland and urban areas.
"An accurate fire model could be very useful in allowing us
to strategize by staying one or two steps ahead of an actual fire
as it burns, allowing more efficient deployment of resources
during an emergency. The AVIRIS information can tell us what
kinds of fuel are present and that could help us plan safe and
effective 'prescribed' burns," said Herb Spitzer, assistant fire
chief at the Forestry Division of the Los Angeles County Fire
Department. "If we could burn the vegetation more frequently and
in small patches, then it would reduce the risk of catastrophic
The AVIRIS program is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of
Mission to Planet Earth, Washington, D.C. The Mission to Planet
Earth program oversees a long-term, coordinated effort to study
Earth's air, water, land and life as a global environmental
NOTE TO EDITORS: A NASA Television Video File will feature the
AVIRIS images of the Santa Monica Mountains plus file footage of
the ER-2 airplane on Wednesday, November 13, at 9 a.m., noon, 3
p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Pacific Time. NASA Television is carried
on Spacenet 2, transponder 5 (channel 9) at 69 degrees west
longitude. The frequency is 3880 MHz. Polarization is
horizontal and audio is monaural at 6.8 MHz.