Viewing the Environmental Impact of US Wildfires from Above

Engineers take to the skies to measure the environmental and atmospheric effects of wildfires and the smoke they generate.

FIRESTORM: Aerospace sensors shed light on environmental impact of U.S. wildfires

How Infrared Hyperspectral Imaging Works

The MAHI/Mako sensors share similar functionality with digital cameras in that they capture images comprised of rows of pixels. But while digital camera pixels can only register colors (i.e., “channels”) of red, green and blue, Mako sensor pixels can capture spectral information on the order of 128 channels, while MAHI sensor pixels can capture 640. Given that different chemical compounds absorb different wavelengths of light, the two sensors can provide infrared information that can reveal variations in color intensity that provide the visual signatures unique to specific gases.

Onboard the Twin Otter, Aerospace’s Mako instrument provides superior sensing capabilities.

Evolved Sensor and Data Analysis

Likewise, data collection and analysis tools were similarly updated and tailored to meet the needs of the mission, which now presented an exceptionally large area of coverage due to the unprecedented severity and range of the wildfires. While carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide were readily observed during the mission, the FIRESTORM 2020 mission also identified preliminary “exotic” materials in the hyperspectral data, such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzaldehyde and acrolein, among others.

The team prepares to takes the sensors airborne, flying over fire-affected regions to collect hyperspectral imaging data.

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