Life After Wildfire: Studying How Plants Bounce Back

After a fire at a California state park, volunteers used satellite imagery to study the recovery

Henry Coe Park in Santa Clara County is big: 87,000 acres of former ranch land, dotted with oak trees, meadows that burst with wildflowers each spring, and vast stretches of chaparral. Given that Coe is nestled near Silicon Valley, it makes sense that the retirees who volunteer here bring a certain technical bent to their appreciation of the place.

Case in point: the Lick Fire of September 2007 (Craig Miller reported on it for The California Report). Named the Lick Fire after it was first spotted from the nearby Lick Observatory, the wildfire burned 47,760 acres in the Mt. Hamilton Range by the time it was contained, eight days later.

Since then, citizen scientists who volunteer for the park have been paying close attention to see how the burned land bounces back. In particular: Bob Patrie, a former project manager in Silicon Valley, and Winslow Briggs, Director Emeritus at Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Plant Biology. Together, they’ve pored over satellite imagery to document the impact of the fire on various plant communities in Coe Park.

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New Satellite Launched to Watch Climate, Weather

Agencies hope the next-generation satellite will serve as a bridge between the nation’s aging satellite fleet and the new ones yet to come.

Launch of the NPP satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday.

In a joint effort to improve observations of the Earth from space, NASA and NOAA launched a new satellite on Friday from Vandenberg Air Force base near Lompoc, CA. The satellite carries with it a suite of next-generation technologies and tools that the agencies say will enable scientists to continue monitoring climate change and weather patterns as many existing Earth-observing satellites are reaching the outer edge of their life expectancies.

The new satellite is part of the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP), which aims to monitor the entire planet, collecting and processing data on the Earth’s weather, atmosphere, oceans, land, and near-space environment.  The agencies say this data will not only help with monitoring climate change, but also with natural disaster prediction and planning, and military strategies.  NASA describes the NPP as a bridge between the aging Earth Observation System (EOS) satellites and the “forthcoming” Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellites, which are scheduled to begin launching in 2016. Continue reading