LANGLEY, Va.. — 30 Sep 10
University of Florida Student Tracks California Wildfires
By: Heather L. Ogletree
The 2009 Station Fire in Southern California burned from August 25 until September 2, 2009, igniting over 160,577 acres, destroying 209 structures, and killing 2 people. However, this was just the beginning.
“Wildfires are important sources of particulate matter, aerosols, and other greenhouse gases, all of which can alter the Earth’s climate [over time],” said Samiah Moustafa, a resident of Gainesville, Fla., and a participant in the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) at the NASA Langley Research Center.
Moustafa worked on a student team this summer under the supervision of Richard Ferrare, Amy Jo Swanson, Melissa Yang, and James Favors on a NASA Applied Sciences’ DEVELOP National Programproject entitled “California Natural Disasters: Using Remote Sensing Data in Management Support of Angeles National Forest.” Large scale fires produce smoke plumes, which contain trace gasses and aerosols. According to Yang, “Tracking plumes is extremely important for agencies like the EPA and more specifically the project’s end-user, the South Coast Air Quality Management group.”
During Moustafa’s internship, she was afforded the opportunity to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and theHybrid Single Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) Model. “By running HYSPLIT trajectories and comparing the airborne data to the ground station data, it was apparent that biomass burning not only affected the local area, but also impacted the climate and photochemistry at a regional scale and possibly global scale,” said Moustafa.
The data that Moustafa worked with presented a challenge at first, but by having a USRP mentor like Yang that was an expert in atmospheric chemistry, she was able to understand the data and “easily make sense of everything.” Once understood, this data allowed Moustafa to identify individual smoke plumes from the wildfires and to predict with a high level of certainty where they came from and where they might go.
With biomass burning accounting for 30% of the atmospheric carbon dioxide and with the impacts on public health, “understanding the impact of wildfires on the atmosphere and improving our ability to predict how these biomass burning plumes spread....has important applications for disaster management,” notes Moustafa.
“It is especially important to understand the plume trajectories so as to forecast future plumes and the health risks associated, “agrees Ferrare.
At the end of Moustafa’s USRP experience, her team’s project was presented at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“The best part of the NASA USRP internship was the opportunity to work one-on-one with some of the greatest minds that the science community has to offer. This hands-on experience with researchers taught me so much more than I could have ever learned in a classroom,” said Moustafa. “Thanks to NASA, I now hope to pursue a PhD in Geographic Information Systems and remote sensing.”
Bryan Dansberry, the NASA USRP Project Lead stated, “It is a great feeling knowing we are not only increasing skills and competencies of the future STEM workforce, but we are also contributing to the future of our environment.”