‘Satellite-based fire alert didn’t go out to TN forest depatment’

NEW DELHI: A satellite-based alert warning of a forest fire didn’t go out to forest department officials in Tamil Nadu, Director General of Forests Siddhanta Das told The Hindu.

Based on satellite inputs from Isro’s National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), the Forest Survey of India, since 2004, has a system of monitoring fires real-time and informing state departments about active forest fires. “Typically the FSI, based on satellite mappings, alerts all forest departments. For some reason this fire-alert didn’t go out to the state forest department. I’m not sure of the precise details as I wasn’t in Delhi when this happened,” Mr. Das said.

Multiple sensors aboard the NASA satellites Terra and Aqua pick up thermal images of forest fires if they are underway in India and relay it to state forest departments at prescribed times — 1:45 pm and 10:30 am — via SMS to registered users.

Another set of alerts are generated by a different group of sensors, called VIIRS, aboard the Suomi NPP space crafts. From here alerts are issued around midnight, 2 am and 1.30 in the afternoon. While the sensors on these satellites are tuned to a higher resolution they are still in “experimental mode” as per the NRSC database. “It’s possible the satellite passes didn’t coincide with the time the fires actually began and so fire alerts didn’t go out. In this case, however, the fire was human-made, as is the case with 90% of forest fires across India. ” Mr. Das added.

While the current system of detecting active fires via satellite images has been in place since 2004, the forest department, since 2016, has been working on a system of generating “pre-warnings.” Such alerts of a fire threat are given a week in advance based on forest cover, type of forest, climate variables and the past fire-activity in the area. “This system has not been put into operational use yet,” Mr. Das added.

According to India’s State of Forest Report 2017, the number of fire alerts issued to Tamil Nadu went up from 89 in 2013 to 301 in 2017.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 10:00:04 AM |

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