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UNH Scientists Travel to Amazonia to Assess Fires: Join Them on their Expedition Via the Web
DURHAM, N.H. -- University of New Hampshire scientists and students travel to Brazil this month to research fires in the Amazon, and they are inviting the public to "come along."

By logging on to the Web site visitors can follow the scientists' expedition log and send questions to the team on-site in Amazonia.

The trip is being lead by Manoel Cardoso, a Brazilian Ph.D. candidate in Earth sciences, and George Hurtt, assistant professor of natural resources in UNH's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS). In addition, the research team includes Heather Bain, an intern from Carver, Mass., who is a participant in the university's new NASA-EOS Research and Discover program, and Pedro Lagden, a research scientist with the Brazilian Center for Weather Forecast and Climate Studies.

High schools students in the UNH's summer institute Project SMART also will participate through workshops at the university and remotely via the Internet.

The UNH team's field work is set to coincide with the second International LBA (Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia) Scientific Conference July 7 - 10 in Manaus, Brazil. LBA is an international cooperative initiative lead by Brazil whose objective is to produce new scientific knowledge about the functioning of Amazon ecosystems. After the conference, the team will travel to Mato Grosso, Brazil, to assess fires July 12 - 16.

The forested portion of the Brazilian Amazon is large -- approximately 1.4 million square miles -- an area large enough to contain Western Europe. Fires are commonly used to clear the land, and more than 5,400 square miles of land is deforested every year.

These fires can affect nutrient and carbon stocks in the land, change the composition of the atmosphere by emitting significant sources of greenhouse gases, and hinder successful regrowth.

"Our research field trip is part of a NASA funded study to better understand the biogeochemical dynamics of the Amazon region, including the impact of fires," Hurtt says. "Understanding this is important and a current focus of international Earth science research."

The goal of this research trip is to collect ground-based data that can be used to enhance the interpretation of satellite-based estimates of fires for environmental studies in Amazonia. Satellite fire products provide broad spatial and temporal coverage for Amazonia. Currently, these products are the most comprehensive sources of information on fire occurrence.

However, there are factors that complicate data interpretation, Cardoso says. For example, some fires occur at times different than the satellites overpasses, or image acquisition times. Others occur under clouds or plant canopies that mask their detection, or are too small to be detected remotely. In addition, very reflective surfaces occasionally can produce false positives.

"We will relate the information collected to corresponding information from satellite fire products," Cardoso says. "The analysis of these datasets together is directed toward enhancing the interpretation of satellite fire products for environmental studies."

An undergraduate member of the team, Bain is a student at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. She is studying at UNH this summer as an intern through the institute's Research and Discover program. Funded through the UNH-Goddard Joint Center for the Earth Sciences, the program is open to students who have completed their junior year and are interested in studying with EOS's international-renowned scientists.

A mathematics major with a computer science minor, Bain is applying mathematical theory to this environmental project in Amazonia.

By Sharon Keeler
UNH News Bureau

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