Fires increase Sentinel demand


A screen capture on 9 January 2013
of the Sentinel Bushfire Monitoring System.
© Geoscience Australia

Demand for the national Sentinel Bushfire Monitoring System, which is hosted by Geoscience Australia, is at its highest since the disastrous Victorian Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.

Hits to the Sentinel Hotspots monitoring service on the Geoscience Australia website have increased from around 60 thousand a day during December 2012 to more than 2.5 million over the past few days.

Sentinel provides details of hotspots that have been detected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard the Terra and Aqua remote sensing satellites. MODIS is able to detect hotspots over a 2330 kilometre wide swath on the ground as it orbits the Earth. The Terra and Aqua satellites collect hotspots data over large parts of Australia at least six times a day.

The Sentinel system provides timely and readily accessible spatial information to emergency service managers and fire controllers across Australia to help identify the locations of hotspots, or fire fronts, with a potential risk to communities and property.

The raw image data recorded by MODIS is received by Geoscience Australia's Data Acquisition Facility at Alice Springs and is processed to create a surface temperature image which is the basis for identifying hotspots.

Depending on the information received from the last satellite pass, the hotspots shown on the Sentinel system will have been detected between one and 24 hours ago with a location accuracy of around 1.5 kilometres. The symbol used to depict the hotspot does not indicate the size of the fire.

However, not all hotspots are detected by the satellites because some heat sources may be too small, produce insufficient heat, or be obscured by thick smoke or cloud. In addition, because the satellites detect heat from any source, the hot spots may include thermal emissions from industrial activities such as combustion of flue gas in a power plant.

Sentinel offers users the opportunity to display hotspots from the most recent MODIS data and from data up to 72 hours old in a number of mapping formats, including topographic reference maps.

A zoom facility also allows selection of specific areas while applications on the toolbar provide opportunities to move through selections and to obtain specific details about the location and other information on identified hotspots.

Sentinel was jointly developed by Geoscience Australia, CSIRO Land and Water and the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation following the severe bushfire season experienced during the 2001-02 summer.