Orbiting watchtowers

Forest managers keep an eye on resources in near real-time.


WHEN Rafael Manzanero checks his e-mail from the remote village of San Jose Succotz in Belize, he scans his inbox for the words “fire alert” and “NASA.” The e-mails appear in his inbox three hours after NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites sense fire in the Chiquibul National Park. Manzanero heads a nonprofit that watches over the park, the largest protected forest in Belize and home to the biggest Mayan archaeological site in the country. Oceans away, researcher Veerachai Tanpipat also watches out for such e-mails from his office in the busy city of Bangkok. Tanpipat helped the Thai government monitor forest fires that blanketed the city of Chiang Mai in dense haze in 2007.

Manzanero and Tanpipat are among thousands of subscribers to the NASA Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS), which uses remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) to help managers of protected areas respond faster to fires. While the technology helps Manzanero and Tanpipat keep an eye on vast and remote forests in their countries, they are also uncovering a tension between forest conservation and an old way of farming that wildlands can no longer support.

Originally published in Sensing Our Planet: NASA Earth Science Research Features. Read the full story here.