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Vandenberg AFB-Launched Satellites Show Before and After Images of Montecito Mudslides

Assorted images captured by GeoEye-1, WorldView-2 and Landsat spacecraft show impact of Jan. 9 mudslides

 

Using a satellite that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2013, NASA Earth Observatory revealed the before and after images of the Montecito debris flows. 

NASA representatives assembled the image using the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8, according to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

In additional to Landsat images, a pair of commercial satellites, GeoEye-1 and WorldView2, both owned by DigitalGlobe, also captured the devastation.

One natural color image captured Nov. 23 by Landsat, before the Thomas Fire, shows green vegetation, which is later burned to brown. 

The second image, captured Jan. 10, show trails of mud and debris visible along streams south of the burn scar. The Earth Observatory website includes a tool that allows users to view the pictures side by side and is available here.

The joint NASA/USGS program, Landsat series of spacecraft have provided the longest continuous space-based record of Earth’s land since the first launch in 1972. In addition to launching from Vandenberg, at least one key instruments has its roots in the Santa Barbara area. 

Meanwhile, GeoEye-1 headed to space from Vandenberg in September 2008 while WorldView-2 launched in October 2009.

Fire retardant substances form a layer over the soil surface after flames have left, NASA Earth Observatory officials said.

“Like the wax on your car, they coat the soil, causing water to bead up and run off quickly,” NASA Earth Observatory representatives said. “The problem is especially pronounced for intense and long-lived blazes such as the Thomas fire.”

The heavy rainfall rate contributed to making the Montecito situation so dangerous, NASA officials added.

“While the total rainfall was not that exceptional, unusually intense rain fell in and near the burn scar at the beginning of the storm,” NASA Earth Observatory representatives said..

In five minutes, 0.54 inches of rain fell in Montecito, while nearby Carpinteria received 0.86 inches within 15 minutes. 

“According to the U.S. Geological Survey, any storm that has rainfall intensities greater than about 10 millimeters (0.4 inches) per hour poses the risk of producing debris flows,” NASA representatives said.

In Southern California, as little as 0.3 inches of rainfall in 30 minutes has triggered debris flows, according to USGS data.

“Post-fire debris flows are particularly hazardous because they can occur with little warning, can exert great impulsive loads on objects in their paths, can strip vegetation, block drainage ways, damage structures, and endanger human life,” the USGS said.

The danger likely won’t end soon.

“Wildfire-related flooding and increased runoff may continue for several years in a burn area, but it is unusual for post-fire debris flows to occur beyond the second rainy season,” the USGS said. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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