Brussels, 05 Aug 2005
The damage caused by July's forest fires in the Guadalajara province of Spain, in which 11 volunteer fire fighters lost their lives, has been measured using instruments onboard the European Space Agency's (ESA) Envisat.
The four-day blaze was started on 16 July, when a barbecue in pine woodland burned out of control and high winds spread the flames across the tinderbox landscape. At its height, the fire threatened the villages of Selas and Ablanque before fire fighters successfully halted its progress with fire-breaks, backed up by water-bombing aircraft.
As the Spanish authorities seek to assess the extent of the damage, a rapid estimate has been carried out using data from Envisat's medium resolution imaging spectrometer (MERIS). The effort was led by a team working under Frederico González-Alonso at the Spanish National Institute for agriculture, food research and technology.
'MERIS measures the solar radiation reflected by the Earth in 15 selectable bands in the visible and near infra-red,' explains Dr González-Alonso. The team used bands that were particularly sensitive to vegetation, and then performed an automatic analysis to identify areas that could be visually classified as very burnt, he added.
The results showed a burnt area estimate of 11,313 hectares, which tallies well with estimates from other sources of around 12,000 hectares. 'The results of our completed study will be sent to the Spanish Ministry of Environment for economic, social and ecological damage assessment,' added Dr González-Alonso. 'The results achieved so far show that estimates can be extremely useful, not only in establishing the scale of the damage but also for the subsequent forest renewal projects and for subsidy management.'
As well as fire damage estimates, the MERIS instrument is also being used in combination with other satellite sensors to provide fire and flood risk-management services, as part of the Risk-EOS initiative. This project is part of the GMES services element, a suite of Earth observation services being developed as part of the joint Global Monitoring for Environment and Security initiative between ESA and the European Commission.
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