Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fires and Floods

Given that my background is not in Earth science, I was intrigued when I learned about scientists tromping through the still burning remnants of California's Rim Fire to get a sense of which areas would be most susceptible to erosion so that erosion prevention measures can be implemented before any significant rainfall events.  And then I wondered, could the extreme flooding in Colorado this week have been exacerbated by drought and impacts to the land from past forest fires, such as the Flagstaff Fire of 2012?

Federal Teams Headed to Rim Fire to Assess Damage
ABC News, Sept 6th, 2013

Amid Drought, Explaining Colorado’s Extreme Floods
National Geographic, Sept 14th, 2013
Fire and Rain: The One-Two Punch of Flooding After Blazes
National Geographic, Aug 31st, 2011

It turns out that NASA satellite imagery can guide scientists to those forested areas needing attention by aiding in the identification of severely burned areas where destroyed vegetation and exposed soil could be problematic during a heavy rainfall or flooding event.  A Burned Area Reflectance Classification (BARC) is a satellite-derived data layer of post-fire vegetation condition. The BARC has four classes: high, moderate, low, and unburned (see map below).  To learn more about how BARC data is generated, click here.

Burned Area Reflectance Classification (BARC) for the June 2013 Silver Fire
After a Fire, Before a Flood
NASA Earth Observatory, Sept 11, 2013

Burning Wildlands and a Burning Need for Landsat (pdf)

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