NASA's Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) captured a birds-eye view of the vast Apple fire raging in Southern California.
The wildfire began on the evening of Friday, July 31, after two smaller fires merged and rapidly grew in the hot conditions in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, prompting the evacuation of thousands of residents. Air temperatures have soared past 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), stressing the vegetation and turning the area into a tinderbox. By Monday, the wildfire had exploded to over 26,000 acres.
ECOSTRESS recorded the image above at 1:15 p.m. PST (4:15 p.m. EDT) on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, when the burn area was approximately 4,000 acres in size. In the image, the black smoke plume can be seen drifting east and over Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert. With a spatial resolution of about 77 by 77 yards (70 by 70 meters), the image enables researchers to study surface-temperature conditions down to the size of a football field. In the active burn area, temperatures of between 390 and 1290 degrees Fahrenheit (200 and 700 degrees Celsius) were recorded, and in one pixel in the ECOSTRESS image of the burn zone, a peak temperature of 1387 degrees Fahrenheit (753 degrees Celsius) was detected.
Tasked with detecting plant water use and stress, ECOSTRESS's primary mission is to measure the temperature of plants heating up as they run out of water. But it can also measure and track heat-related phenomena like fires, heat waves, and volcanoes. Due to the space station's unique orbit, the mission can acquire images of the same regions at different times of the day, as opposed to crossing over each area at the same time of day like satellites in other orbits do. This is advantageous when monitoring plant stress in the same area throughout the day, for example.
The ECOSTRESS mission launched to the space station on June 29, 2018. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages the mission for the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ECOSTRESS is an Earth Venture Instrument mission; the program is managed by NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder program at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
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