Wildfires continue in the interior of Alaska

July 25th, 2015

GOES-15 visible (top) and shortwave IR (bottom) images [click to play animation]

GOES-15 visible (top) and shortwave IR (bottom) images [click to play animation]

Wildfires continued to burn across parts of the interior of Alaska during the 22-25 July 2015 period, as is shown in GOES-15 (GOES-West) 0.63 µm visible channel and 3.9 µm shortwave IR images (above; click to play animation; also available as an MP4 movie file). Also of interest is: (1) the diurnal change of intensity and areal coverage of the fire hot spots (darker black to red pixels on the shortwave IR images), with the fires dying down at night, and (2) the change in direction of smoke transport, from westward on 22 July to eastward on 24 July. The switch in smoke transport direction was the result of changing winds associated with a broad area of low pressure moving across Alaska during that period (surface analyses).

A more detailed view of the fire hot spots was provided by 375-meter resolution (mapped onto a 1-km AWIPS grid) Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR images (below; click to play animation).

Suomi NPP VIIRS shortwave IR images [click to play animation]

Suomi NPP VIIRS shortwave IR images [click to play animation]

Many of the fires were burning in the general vicinity of the Utopia Creek, Indian Mountain airport (station identifier PAIM); a time series of surface observation from that site (below) showed that visibility was 1 mile or less due to smoke at times on 25 July.

Time series of surface observation from Utopia Creek, Indian Mountain airport [click to enlarge]

Time series of surface observation from Utopia Creek, Indian Mountain airport [click to enlarge]

Daily composites of Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images viewed using the SSEC RealEarth web map server are shown below.

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color images [click to enlarge]

Wildfire smoke: from Alaska to Norway, via the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans

July 18th, 2015

Meteosat-10 0.8 µm visible channel images [click to play animation]

Meteosat-10 0.8 µm visible channel images [click to play animation]

EUMETSAT Meteosat-10 High Resolution Visible (0.8 µm) images (above; click to play animation; also available as an MP4 movie file) revealed the hazy signature of what appeared to be a ribbon of smoke aloft being transported eastward across the North Atlantic Ocean by the circulation of a large area of low pressure (surface | 500 hPa) on 17 July 2015. Early in the day, the smoke feature stretched from the east coast of Greenland to the central Atlantic Ocean; by the end of the day, the leading edge of the smoke had moved over the British Isles and was headed toward Scandinavia.

A portion of the smoke plume could be seen on Aqua MODIS and Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images (below) as it was approaching the southern portion of Great Britain.

Aqua MODIS and Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color images [click to enlarge]

Aqua MODIS and Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color images [click to enlarge]

On the following morning, Meteosat-10 visible images (below; click to play animation) showed that the leading edge of the smoke ribbon was moving over southern Norway.

Meteosat-10 0.8 µm visible channel images [click to play animation]

Meteosat-10 0.8 µm visible channel images [click to play animation]

The transport pathway of this smoke feature was rather interesting, as we shall explore with the following sets of images.

Suomi NPP VIIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR and 0.64 µm visible images on 06 July [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR and 0.64 µm visible images on 06 July [click to enlarge]

The 2015 wildfire season in Alaska had been very active — as of 17 July, it was rated as the 4th worst in terms of total acreage burned. In early July, numerous wildfires burning across the interior of Alaska were producing a large amount of smoke, as can be seen in a comparison of of Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR and 0.64 µm visible channel images at 2131 and 2312 UTC on 06 July (above). The thermal signature of the wildfire “hot spots” showed up as yellow to red to black pixels on the 2 shortwave IR images, while the widespread smoke plumes from the fires are evident on the 2 visible images; even in the relatively short 101 minutes separating the two sets of VIIRS images, notable changes in fire activity could be seen.

Looking a bit farther to the north and west, a sequence of VIIRS 0.64 µm visible images centered over Cape Lisburne (station identifier PALU) in northwestern Alaska covering a 2-day period from 06 to 08 July (below) showed the initial transport of large amounts of smoke from the interior of Alaska northwestward over the Chukchi Sea between Alaska and Russia.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel images covering the 06-08 July period [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel images covering the 06-08 July period [click to enlarge]

Daily composites of Suomi NPP OMPS Aerosol Index covering the period of 04-17 July (below; courtesy of Colin Seftor; see his OMPS Blog post) showed the strong signal of this dense Alaskan smoke (denoted by the red arrows) as it moved from east to west over the far southern Arctic Ocean and along the far northern coast of Russia from 06-10 July. The Aerosol Index signal seemed to stall north of Scandinavia on 12-13 July, but then a small portion began to move toward Iceland and Greenland on 13-15 July around the periphery of a large upper-level low (500 hPa analyses). Finally, some of this smoke was then transported eastward across the Atlantic Ocean around the southern periphery of this upper-level low on 17 July, as was seen on the Meteosat-10 visible images at the beginning of this blog post.

Suomi NPP OMPS Aerosol Index images, covering the period 04-17 July [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP OMPS Aerosol Index images, covering the period 04-17 July [click to enlarge]

CALIOP lidar data from the CALIPSO satellite (below) showed the vertical distribution of the Alaskan smoke over and off the coast of northern Norway on 11 July. The signal of the smoke was located in the center portion of the images; while there appeared to be some smoke at various altitudes within the middle to upper troposphere, a significant amount of smoke was seen in the lower stratosphere in the 10-12 km altitude range.

CALIPSO CALIOP lidar data showing the smoke over northern Norway on 11 July [click to enlarge]

CALIPSO CALIOP lidar data showing the smoke over northern Norway on 11 July [click to enlarge]

Smoke and Fog in the VIIRS Day/Night Band

July 2nd, 2015
Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.70 µm visible Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm - 3.74 µm Brightness Temperature Difference images, and Ceilings and Visibilities, ~0800 UTC (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.70 µm visible Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm – 3.74 µm IR Brightness Temperature Difference images, and Ceilings and Visibilities, ~0800 UTC (click to enlarge)

July’s first Full Moon occurred at 0219 UTC on 2 July (a second full moon occurs later this month on 31 July). Strong illumination from the moon showed river valley fog in several tributaries of the Mississippi River (for example, the Wisconsin River in southwest Wisconsin; the Upper Iowa River in Iowa) across the Upper Midwest. The Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band also shows a plume of Canadian wildfire smoke aloft, stretching from central Iowa northwestward to western Minnesota. This smoke (visible on 1 July in Aqua true-color imagery from the MODIS Today site) is not apparent in the IR Brightness Temperature Difference field, although the river valley fog certainly is. Smoke is transparent to most infrared channels and detection at night is very difficult if visible information such as that provided by the Day/Night Band is not present.

The VIIRS Day/Night Band also enabled detection of the dense plume of Canadian wildfire smoke as it moved off the US East Coast and over the adjacent offshore waters of the western Atlantic Ocean at 0614 UTC  (below). Again, note that the smoke aloft does not exhibit a signature on the corresponding VIIRS Infrared imagery.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm Infrared images (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm Infrared images (click to enlarge)

Fires in Alaska, Canadian smoke over the Lower 48

June 29th, 2015
Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm infrared channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm infrared channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP 0.64 µm visible channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

Suomi NPP 0.64 µm visible channel images, times as indicated (click to enlarge)

The 2015 Wildfire Season is off to a quick start in Alaska (continuing an observed trend). This map (from this site) shows more than 300 active fires over Alaska at 2000 UTC on 29 June 2015. This graph (from the Alaska Climate Info Facebook page) compares early burn acreage in 2015 to that in 2004 (the year with the most acreage burned — see this graph, courtesy of Uma Bhatt, University of Alaska-Fairbanks).

Soumi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm infrared imagery from early morning on 29 June 2015 (top) shows numerous wildfire hot spots (dark black pixels) in the region surrounding the Yukon River (the middle portion of the imagery, south of Kotzebue Sound). VIIRS visible imagery from the same time, above, shows an extensive pall of smoke over much of central Alaska.

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

Meanwhile, thick smoke from fires burning over northern Canada (comparison of VIIRS visible and shortwave IR images from 28 June) was drifting southward over central portions of the Lower 48 states. The smoke plume on 28 June (above) was fairly narrow; however, a much broader and thicker plume was seen moving south on 29 June (GOES visible imagery below, then MODIS/VIIRS true-color RGB imagery as displayed using the SSEC RealEarth web map server). SSEC MODIS Today true-color imagery of this smoke plume is also available here. Pilot reports placed the lower and upper bounds of the thick smoke at 5000 and 17500 feet, with flight visibilities as low as 2 miles at 5000 feet. Some of the smoke subsided to the surface in southeastern South Dakota, restricting the surface visibility at Sioux Falls to 5 miles and raising the Air Quality Index there into the Unhealthy category. In fact, the smoke was so thick over far eastern South Dakota that it had the effect of reducing surface heating and slowing the rise of afternoon temperatures, such that convective temperatures were not being reached and probabilities of precipitation had to be scaled back:

AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SIOUX FALLS SD
356 PM CDT MON JUN 29 2015

.SHORT TERM…(THIS EVENING THROUGH TUESDAY)
ISSUED AT 356 PM CDT MON JUN 29 2015

IN ADDITION…THICK PLUME OF SMOKE CONTINUES TO DRIFT SOUTHWARD IMPACTING NEARLY ALL OF THE FORECAST AREA…BUT MOST   NOTABLE ALONG AND EAST OF THE JAMES RIVER VALLEY. BECAUSE OF THIS…AFTERNOON TEMPERATURES ARE ABOUT 2 TO 4 DEGREES
COOLER THAN FORECAST AND WE ARE HAVING A HECK OF A TIME REACHING OUR CONVECTIVE TEMPERATURE. THEREFORE LOWERED THE LATE AFTERNOON AND EVENING POPS IN OUR EASTERN ZONES TO ONLY SLIGHT CHANCE POPS. BUT EVEN THOSE MAY BE TOO HIGH AND IF NOTHING DEVELOPS OVER THE NEXT COUPLE OF HOURS…THEY MAY NEED TO BE REMOVED ENTIRELY.

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

GOES-13 Visible (0.63 µm) imagery (click to play animation)

MODIS and VIIRS true-color imagery (click to enlarge)

MODIS and VIIRS true-color imagery (click to enlarge)

Daytime detection of smoke plumes is not difficult with visible (or true-color) imagery. At night, however, smoke detection is a challenge. The VIIRS Day/Night Band on Suomi NPP can detect smoke when Lunar Illumination is high (although detection is limited to one or sometimes two passes per night). Smoke is otherwise mostly transparent to infrared channels on the GOES Imager. Websites such as the NOAA/NESDIS IDEA and the GASP are helpful; however, the GASP product uses single-channel (visible) detection only.

Visible imagery from GOES-15, below, highlights the expansive region covered by smoke over northern Canada. Note that the smoke becomes less distinct with time as the sun rises higher in the sky, because forward scattering of visible light by smoke particles is more effective than backward scattering.

GOES-15 Visible (0.62 µm) imagery, times as indicated (click to animate)

GOES-15 Visible (0.62 µm) imagery, times as indicated (click to animate)