A pilot project out of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena is testing science instruments intended for space by measuring environmental impacts from the Thomas Fire.
The aerial imaging project has already detected temperatures of around 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit on the blaze in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
Scientist Robert Green’s team is creating maps by flying over the fire and comparing the findings from a flyover over this summer.
"In the future these would be used actively in real time manner to support fire response,” Green said. “But right now, we're doing the research to show how we could deliver the information."
Green said the image spectrometer on the plane peers through smoke collecting data at around 65 feet above the ground.
The instrumentation on the plane observes fine details about vegetation, water content and temperature.
"Look at the areas that are burning and say something about what type of vegetation is there, how much dry biomass is there, and how much leaf water is there,” Green said. “Those are all factors in anticipating where the fire might go."
Green also hopes to collect data after the blaze. That could help agencies prevent mudslides when the rainy season begins by precisely showing how charred the ground is.