Posted on October 6th, 2020

Our Changing Landscape – Pine Gulch Fire, Colorado, USA

In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with a time series of medium-resolution PlanetScope satellite imagery. The PlanetScope constellation dates back to 2016 and collects hundreds of millions of square kilometers of 4 and 5-band 3-meter imagery daily! In September we were in Washington D.C. for a final tribute to Congressman John Lewis, and for this edition of Our Changing Landscape we stay close to home with a look at the spread of the Pine Gulch Fire in western Colorado here in the United States.

Click on the image above to see an animation of 3-meter natural color PlanetScope imagery collected over the Pine Gulch Fire by Grand Junction, Colorado on July 21,2020 and then August 2, 5, 7, 9 and 24, 2020. In this animation, the July 21st image shows our readers pre-fire conditions and then in the August 2nd image you can see the early stages of this fire as it spreads across the valley in the subsequent 5th, 7th and 9th images. By August 24th, the fires have ended here, leaving behind a very apparent scar. (Images Courtesy: © Planet 2020). Animation might not work due to file size, download the GIF here if so.

The PlanetScope Microsat Constellation

PlanetScope is a constellation of more than 150 microsats referred to individually as Doves. Each Dove is able to collect up to 20,000 square kilometers (sq km) per day of 3-meter (m) 4-band multispectral (i.e. blue, green, red and near-infrared [NIR]) imagery; and newly launched SuperDoves collect 5-band multispectral adding in valuable red-edge spectral data. Across the constellation, PlanetScope is archiving more than 200 million sq km of medium-resolution imagery a day, making it the go to source for daily imagery over most locations. This massive archive dates back to 2016, offering the most complete and continuous record of spatial data on the planet since the start of the constellation’s ongoing launch schedule. Collecting 3-meter multispectral imagery is the equivalent of ‘high-resolution’ multispectral data imaged by a 75-centimer (cm) satellite (as this satellite would feature 75-cm panchromatic and 3-m multispectral), making PlanetScope an extremely competitively priced option at just $1.80 per sq km. With well registered images and nearly daily collections of most locations, PlanetScope is the ideal imagery source for this current-events focused series, Our Changing Landscape.

The Pine Gulch Fire: Second Largest Fire (Maybe the First Now!) in Colorado History

This summer has been dry and hot in Colorado as the smoky air for nearly all of August attests to here in Boulder. In fact, at the time this article was drafted, there were four major fires underway in our state, i.e. Cameron Peak, Grizzly Creek, Pine Gulch and Williams Fork, as well as numerous smaller fires. Our focus here is on the Pine Gulch Fire which had burned nearly 136,000 acres as of August 26th, putting it just about 2,000 acres behind Colorado’s largest fire, the Hayman Fire, with only 53% containment – hence logic suggests that by the time this newsletter is published, it will be our largest fire ever.

The Pine Gulch Fire was first reported on July 31, 2020 at approximately 5:15 PM, apparently started by a lightning strike in a rural canyonland about 18 miles north of Grand Junction. The fire spread quickly through the mixed Pinyon-Juniper forests and brush, with plenty of fuel built up after years of regional drought – this map shows the fire’s progression, click on Fire Progression Map tab. The fight against the Pine Gulch Fire was escalated on August 14th, and as of August 27th there were 926 total personnel working together against its spread. With the ever-changing nature of fire and its distinct scar on the land, the PlanetScope constellation is particularly adept at tracking the progress of this natural disaster. So with that said, it’s time to turn to the 3-meter archive to track the spread of the Pine Gulch Fire which we believe started just north of Grand Junction between Horse Mountain West, Horse Mountain East and Corcoran Peak. The PlanetScope imagery we found for this articles appears to show very early Pine Gulch Fire activity as it comes from this triangular region with a fire obviously blazing on August 2nd.

If you would like to find out more about using 3-meter PlanetScope imagery for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at [email protected] or (303) 993-3863.

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