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NEON studies wildfire in unprecedented detail – Science Nation

NEON studies wildfire in unprecedented detail – Science Nation


♫MUSIC♫ MILES O’BRIEN: Just after Colorado’s devastating High Park wildfire, these scientists were on the case surveying the damage from the air and the ground. MICHAEL LEFSKY: We knew that we’d have to get out as quickly as possible in order to make these measurements, particularly as the summer storms come in. MILES O’BRIEN: With support from the National Science Foundation, Colorado State University Environmental Scientist, Michael Lefsky, led a rapid response team to study the fire’s impact on the ecosystem. Colorado State worked with NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network, also funded by the NSF. NEON’s airborne and mobile units can quickly deploy to wild fires and other environmental disasters. DAVID SCHIMEL: The NEON system will allow us to understand the fire’s behavior and its impact in a way that’s never been possible without this technology. MILES O’BRIEN: Team members flew over the fire’s path conducting 3-D remote sensing using spectroscopy, high resolution cameras and a LIDAR instrument. THOMAS KAMPE: The Lidar instrument gives us the ability to measure the structure of vegetation and then even the spectrometer provides details such as discriminating between live and dead vegetation. MILES O’BRIEN: Down on the ground, teams were working hard too, monitoring the impact of the fire on land and water. LEE MACDONALD: A mixture of mineral soil and a lot of ash, this will have some adverse effects on the fish and the other organisms in the river, but the biggest effect from a human standpoint, of course, is the effect on water quality. BILL ROMME: There are places where the fire completely consumed the forest. It killed every tree. At the other end are places where the fire had very little impact and then we’re sampling them so we can find out just exactly how the forest is changing. MILES O’BRIEN: The combined data shows both healthy and scarred areas in amazing detail. MICHAEL LEFSKY: Short term we have focused on providing information to the resource management agencies, so that they can do a better job of planning their restoration activities. MILES O’BRIEN: Team members say there’s been an upsurge in large forest fires in recent years. Better understanding of the destruction could help planners prepare for the future, protecting land, water, and wildlife. For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.

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