AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group of scientists from NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS) have teamed up with South Dakota State University to provide more detailed analyses of wildfire smoke to give more accurate air quality forecasts. Using NOAA’s network of satellites, they will be able to gather observations of wildfire smoke emissions to improve air quality predictions.

The collaboration was a result of the Disaster Relief Act of 2019, where NOAA, the National Weather Service (NWS) and NESDIS came together to set a goal of creating improved air quality forecasts. To do so, they must use capable instruments to collect and assemble data relating to wildfire smoke.

According to NOAA, “The instruments – the ABI on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) program’s, GOES-16 and GOES-17, and the VIIRS on the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program’s NOAA-20 – can detect the heat signature, or fire radiative power, from wildfires.”

NOAA’s GOES satellites are often used to gather various climate and weather data and are among their most valuable assets for doing so. Using them for the purpose of observing wildfire smoke will lead to air quality forecasts that will better represent the level of risk in affected areas.

Previously, most fire emission models were generated using polar-orbiting satellites, meaning they exclusively orbit from pole to pole, which allowed forecasters to only view specific parts of the globe at a given time. The use of the GOES satellites largely resolves that issue as they give views of much larger segments of the planet.

Poor air quality leads to the premature deaths of thousands of people each year, as wildfire smoke can stretch over areas much larger than the fire itself and is highly detrimental to the health of the human body. Improved air quality forecasts will help individuals have greater awareness of areas with unhealthy air quality and will in the long run, help reduce the number of wildfire smoke-induced premature deaths that occur each year.

You can find Austin’s current air quality forecast here.