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Observing Arizona’s Yarnell Hill fire with OMI and MODIS

NASA instruments show conditions on tragic day in Arizona

Observing Arizona’s Yarnell Hill fire with OMI and MODIS

OMI NO2 column amount data and MODIS true-color data were used to create this image of atmospheric conditions over Arizona on June 30, 2013.

Observing Arizona’s Yarnell Hill fire with OMI and MODIS

 This June 30, 2013 image displays enhanced tropospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2) column amounts, associated with the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona, as captured by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) flown on NASA’s Aura satellite.  NO2 is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criteria pollutant gas typically produced by high temperature combustion in car engines and power plants when atmospheric nitrogen combines with oxygen. NO2 can also be created by wildfires and lightning. The unusually high NO2 column amounts (nearing 6 x 1015) near the Yarnell fire indicate that on this date the fire was burning combustible material at a very high rate.  The intense heat of the fire could have also transported NO2 to higher altitudes in the atmosphere where OMI was better able to detect it.

Combined OMI-MODIS image of Yarnell Hill fire, June 30, 2013

Image of atmospheric conditions over Arizona on June 30, 2013.  OMI column amount NO2 values are shown (green-yellow-pink color scale) overlain on a MODIS true-color image.  Pink colors indicate elevated NO2 in the atmosphere. The line of thunderstorms which created dangerous wind conditions can be seen just east of the location of the Yarnell Hill fire (black triangle). Click on the image to view it at full-size.


The OMI NO2 data are shown overlain on a Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) true-color image of the region acquired at approximately the same time.   The MODIS image shows the line of thunderstorms that developed just to the east of the fire. These storms have been identified as a primary meteorological factor occurring on June 30 that created  wind shear conditions leading to the tragic deaths of 19 firefighters who were battling the wildfire.  Strong thunderstorms of this type can produce powerful low-level winds, which may have caused the fire to flare up, move quickly, and even suddenly reverse direction, thus trapping the firefighters with no chance to escape.  


The Yarnell Hill Fire was located about 1.5 miles west of Yarnell, Ariz. The multi-agency Incident Information System Web site noted that the fire began from a lightning strike on Friday, June 28th, 2013.


Note that elevated NO2 columns associated with the cities of Las Vegas and Phoenix and the Four Corners Power plant are also visible in this image, as well as emissions from the nearby Dean Park fire.


OMI is a Dutch-Finnish instrument on board NASA's Aura Earth observation satellite.  This image was created by Colin Seftor (SSAI) with data provided by Lok Lamsal (GESTAR and OMI NO2 team at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).  Nickolay Krotkov leads the OMI NO2 science team and Bryan Duncan is Aura deputy project scientist.  Krotkov, Duncan, and Seftor are members of the Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics Laboratory, Code 614, at GSFC.


OMI data has been  archived since the beginning of the Aura mission (2004) at the NASA Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC).  The OMI instrument is Dutch and Finnish contribution to NASA Aura mission. OMI PI is Pieternel Levelt from Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut (KNMI ) Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute).    The GES DISC provides a Web interface to OMI data via the Mirador data search and distribution system, and the Giovanni data analysis and visualization system.  


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Last updated: Aug 09, 2013 11:15 AM ET