SANTA BARBARA, Calif., Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Data from NASA satellites may soon allow scientists in the United States and elsewhere to predict when and where wildfires occur.
While information from satellites and instruments recently let scientists determine more quickly the location of wildfires and monitor their progress, this research moves toward predicting a fire's development, said researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Ultimately, it could round out data now used to calculate fire potential across much of the United States.
By studying southern California shrub lands prone to wildfires, scientists found that NASA satellite data accurately detected and mapped two factors: a plant's moisture and the amount of living plant material -- or fuel -- in an area. These factors, when combined with weather, play a major role in a wildfire's development, spread rate and intensity.
"This represents an advance in our ability to predict wildfires," said lead author Dar Roberts of UC, Santa Barbara. "We ... continue to gather much better data on the variables critical in wildfire development and spread."
Improving the role of satellite data in wildfire prediction and monitoring is crucial, Roberts said, because field sampling is limited by high costs and the frequency of site samplings, among other things.