Studying Wild Fires in Coahuila, Mexico using NASA’s Earth Observations

EarthzineDEVELOP Summer 2013 VPS, Original

Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)-derived Fire Density Map of Coahuila, Mexico, showing the total number of fires per square kilometer from 2000-2012.

Team Location: Wise County Clerk of Court’s Office, Wise, Virginia; and Tecnologico de Monterrey Saltillo Campus, Saltillo, Mexico
Carlos Cardenas (Monterrey Tech at Saltillo)
Hector Hernandez (Monterrey Tech at Saltillo)
Laura Helena (Monterrey Tech at Saltillo)
Katelyn Dotson (Ball State University)
Pedro Rodriguez Rivera (Mountain Empire Community College)
Rohini S. Swaminathan (Mountain Empire Community College)
Kenton Ross, Ph.D. (NASA, DEVELOP National Science Advisor)
DeWayne Cecil, Ph.D. (Global Science and Technology Inc., National Climatic Data Center)
Yanina Colberg (DEVELOP Wise Center Lead)
Giovanni Colberg (DEVELOP Wise Center Lead)
Past/Other Contributors:
Ryan O’Quinn (University of Virginia, Wise)
Christian Gonzalez (Monterrey Tech at Saltillo)
Daniel Martinez (Monterrey Tech at Saltillo)


Forest fires are one of the most common natural disasters affecting thousands of people directly or indirectly every year. For the past decade, the state of Coahuila has been substantially affected by forest fires. In 2011, out of the 7,850 fires that were reported in Mexico, around 76 percent were recorded in Coahuila. The state witnessed a record-breaking fire (largest amount of land burned in a single fire in Mexico) where more than 100,000 hectares of land were scorched in a fire that took weeks to be extinguished. With the collaboration of several Mexican agencies, including the Secretariat of Natural Resources and the Environment (SEMARNAT) and the National Center for Disaster Prevention (CENAPRED), the project aimed to provide a detailed analysis of the effects of forest fires in this region using NASA’s Earth observations including Landsat 5’s Thematic Mapper (TM), Aqua’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), Terra Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM). Landsat TM and Aqua MODIS data products were used to produce a Relative Differential Normalized Burned Ratio Index (RdNBR) to develop burn scar maps of the region. Fire growth simulation models such as FARSITE and Prometheus were used to compute the fire behavior and spread outputs, given the fuel, topography and weather conditions.  The model results were validated with the burn scar maps derived from remote-sensing datasets. Additionally, the project also developed fire risk maps combining multiple parameters like elevation, slope, aspect, land use, proximity to roads and settlements. The fire risk maps were validated using MODIS hotspot data for the past 13 years smoothed over the state of Coahuila using density estimation techniques. The final results were published using web-mapping services such as Google fusion table. Project results and methodologies provide the ability to enhance Coahuila’s wildfire mitigation and assessment capabilities.

Return to the Summer 2013 VPS page.