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NASA DEVELOP Fall 2022 Term at NCEI

Young scientists study environmental indicators in lead up to destructive wildfires

Only stone parts remain of a house burned in the 2016 Gatlinburg Fire. A charred tree sits in the foreground in the midst of rubble.
Courtesy of Getty Images

This fall, NCEI continues its partnership working with early-career scientists and university students with the NASA DEVELOP Program. This nationwide program uses NASA Earth observations to address diverse environmental issues impacting communities. At the DEVELOP location at NCEI, participants work on projects that focus primarily on climate applications and incorporate NCEI climate data. The NCEI teams also partner with the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) to support drought-focused projects each year.

Gatlinburg and Beatty Wildfires Project

As changes in climate and land use increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires, improved wildfire monitoring can support communities to prepare for and respond to fire events. To investigate the behavior of environmental variables in the lead-up to wildfire events, NASA DEVELOP is partnering with the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC), National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), North Carolina State Climate Office and Oklahoma State University. The DEVELOP team will evaluate how remotely-sensed measures of soil moisture compare to measures of vegetation health and fire fuel indices before the 2016 Chimney Tops 2 Fire near Gatlinburg, TN and the 2021 Bootleg Fire near Beatty, OR. 

The DEVELOP team will produce fuel load maps using fire fuel and vegetation indices calculated from data collected by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) aboard the Landsat 8 satellite and analyze antecedent soil moisture conditions obtained from European Space Agency’s (ESA) Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Soil Moisture (SM) project. Based on these calculations, the DEVELOP team will compare relationships among fuel load, vegetation indices, and soil moisture to investigate how these metrics correlate with fuel buildup in the six months prior to both fire events. These analyses will enhance understanding of soil moisture and fire fuel behavior preceding wildfires and can inform future fire and drought monitoring decisions.

Fall 2022 Participants

Headshot of NASA DEVELOP team member Will Hadley in a green sweater standing outside amongst trees.

 

Will Hadley is a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Science in earth science and a Bachelor of Arts in geography. With a longtime passion in the environment and climate change, he chose to research the climatology of drought through an undergraduate honors thesis and a research internship at the University of Vermont. Aside from his research, Will spent his time in college volunteering for sustainability initiatives around campus and in the wider community, tutoring student athletes in earth science courses, and playing music with friends. Now as a member of the Gatlinburg and Beatty Wildfires team within the NASA DEVELOP program, Will looks forward to combining his background in statistical climatology with modern remote sensing technology in order to better study the forces that shape the environment and impact society.

Headshot of NASA DEVELOP team member Dan Littleton.

 

Dan Littleton is a current GIS Professional Science Masters student at Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) and is completing his Capstone Internship with NASA DEVELOP. He decided to pursue a career in GIS after receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Global Studies at Hofstra University. He loves to explore world cultures, including global music and sports. In his free time, Dan enjoys learning languages, studying world history, documentaries, and traveling.

Headshot of NASA DEVELOP team lead Kelli Roberts in front of a stone wall with text “NASA” in the background.

 

Kelli Roberts is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Arts in Cognitive Science and a certificate in Sustainability. During their undergraduate studies, Kelli conducted research supporting an environmental psychology analysis utilizing virtual reality to target seasonal depression, worked with local bat conservation groups as a science writer and digital storyteller, and assisted with the digitization of audio reels for the Linguistics Atlas Project. As a longtime advocate of environmental and social justice, Kelli joined the NASA DEVELOP program in January of 2022 to impact sustainable decision making across the globe. Since then, they have led two remote sensing projects enhancing resilience to food insecurity in silvicultural Haitian communities. In a shift to climate research, Kelli now leads the Gatlinburg and Beatty Wildfires DEVELOP team in a remote sensing analysis identifying correlations in environmental conditions preceding ignition to inform and protect ecosystems vulnerable to wildfire events.

 

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