USA — Next time there is a wildfire in California, consider the airplane mapping its perimeter could be part of a research project by CSU Monterey Bay scientists.
CSUMB was awarded a 10-year, $32 million NASA grant, the largest in the university’s history, to continue research under way which includes wildfire monitoring, agricultural water management, flood forecasting and crop yield predictions.
The grant is part of a $137 million award given to the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute of Sonoma. The institute will collaborate with CSUMB, UC Davis and the University of North Dakota.
“It’s fantastic,” said Susan Alexander, professor and coordinator of the CSUMB-NASA collaboration. “It’s very exciting to have a 10-year commitment. Funding usually comes in one- to three-year cycles.”
The research being conducted is varied, is of practical application and has received national recognition.
Vince Ambrosia of CSUMB’s Division of Science and Environmental Policy received the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal in February for his work on development of unmanned drones to provide critical information to firefighters.
The aircraft fly over fires and detect the areas where they spread in real time, then itransmit the information to firefighters. The drones detect where hot spots are or how the fires spread, for faster control.
For the project, CSUMB collaborates with several institutions.
Pilots at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in the Mojave
Desert operate the aircraft from the ground. Sensors collect detailed thermal-infrared imagery, even at night and through smoke up to 40,000 feet, according to the CSUMB information department. Real-time technology allows the information to be transferred to the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, where CSUMB researchers are working, then quickly made available online to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and to field operations teams. The information comes in easily readable formats, such as Google maps.
Like Ambrosia, professor Forrest Melton and his team have been nationally recognized for their work on water monitoring and its uses in irrigation. They have been using remote sensing and modeling equipment to estimate irrigation needs at Constellation Vineyards in Napa Valley and other sites throughout California.
Satellite technology detects how dry areas are to determine how much water is needed. It is a way to conserve water and use it in the most efficient way possible.
CSUMB researchers work in 10 areas, including coral reef monitoring, land use, carbon modeling and disease transmission. The grant will allow for a modest expansion of the existing team 20 scientists and eight graduate students and for more students to participate in projects through internships and capstone projects.
The NASA-CSUMB collaboration dates to 1997, when Alexander arrived on the Central Coast from the aeronautical organization.
“We’ve quadrupled in size since ’97. The research scientists have been successful in getting awards and national recognition by publishing in peer review journals and obtaining funding,” Alexander said.
The grant represents a great opportunity not just for students, but for members of the community, CSUMB President Dianne Harrison said.
“Five to 10 students will be afforded the chance to conduct hands-on research alongside faculty and researchers at NASA Ames,” Harrison said in an email. “This is a great collaborative effort that will have a direct impact on our community.”