Multiple aircraft to assist in Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment

NASA DC-8 study smoke plume fires
The NASA DC-8, N817NA, will be one of the aircraft used to study smoke plumes over fires.

At least 17 researchers from 12 agencies and universities will be leading various segments of a large project to develop more detailed information about wildland fires. This will be the second year of the study, titled Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment—A Plan for Integrated, Large Fire–Atmosphere Field Campaigns.

The goals include obtaining additional information about how fires burn so that new fire spread models can be developed and existing ones improved. They will also be collecting information about fire-emitted heat and emissions fluxes, near-source micrometeorology, plume properties, smoke dispersion, and atmospheric chemistry. Both wildfires and prescribed fires will be part of the study.

The expected outcomes from the FASMEE project include:

  1. Improved scientific knowledge of the physically coupled fuels–fire–smoke–chemistry system.
  2. Exportable methodologies for measuring fuels for fire spread, fuel consumption, and fire emissions models.
  3. New insights concerning the processes that drive the spatial organization of fire energy and emissions that defines the transition between fires and plumes that impact air quality.
  4. Improvement of existing operational fire and smoke models and the development of new, more advanced models based on the collection of an unprecedented dataset (fuels, fire, meteorological, smoke plume and chemistry).
aircraft equipment study smoke plumes fires
A large assortment of ground and air based platforms will be used in the Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment.

Data collected from the ground:

  • Instruments on towers upwind, in the burn unit, and downwind.
  • LIDAR on vehicles.
  • Automatic weather stations.
  • Mobile labs.

Data collected above the ground:

  • Multiple manned fixed wing aircraft.
  • Drones, small and large.
  • Radiosonde.
  • Geostationary satellite.
  • Polar orbiting satellite.

One of the aircraft will be NASA’s *DC-8-60/70 which will be especially useful when collecting data over wildfires due to its ability to remain in the air for an extended amount of time with a range of more than 5,000 miles.

Measurements will be synchronized across time and space. This is especially critical for multi-temporal measurements of the fire and plume, for which failure will jeopardize the end-product usability. A key feature of the proposed field campaigns is that they will be designed up-front to be completely integrated with high-resolution mapping of fuels, fuel consumption, fire behavior, plume dynamics, and smoke measurements and temporally synched to provide context for related measurements (e.g., flaming fire front, heat release, and plume dynamics).

Vegetation data at prescribed fires will be collected at each site before and after the burns.  During the burns much of the work will be conducted from the ground, but multiple aircraft will also be used at the burn sites.

Prescribed fires will be studied at locations that have large projects planned:

  • Fort Stewart in Georgia
  • Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina
  • Fishlake National Forest in Utah, and
  • Kaibab National Forest in Arizona

More information about the Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment.


*Interesting historical note about the NASA DC-8-60/70 (N817NA) which was delivered in 1969 to Alitalia Airlines. It had an incident in 2000 (according to Wikimedia Commons) when it inadvertently flew through a diffuse volcanic ash cloud of the Mt. Hekla volcano during a flight from Edwards Air Force Base (Edwards, California) to Kiruna, Sweden. Although the ash plume was not visible to the flight crew, sensitive research experiments and instruments detected it. In-flight performance checks and post flight visual inspections revealed no damage to the airplane or engine first-stage fan blades; subsequent detailed examination of the engines revealed clogged turbine cooling air passages. The engines were removed and overhauled.

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