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Satellite Imagery of the Smoke Plume from Burning Tires
Watertown, Wisconsin - July 19, 2005


Welcome! Please feel free to use the following images and information, with the following credit line:
    "Image courtesy of the Environmental Remote Sensing Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison".

Background:

    At approximately 10 AM (CDT) on July 19, 2005, a fire broke out at the Watertown Tire Recyclers facility just northwest of Watertown, Wisconsin. Smoke from the burning tires rapidly formed a plume that rose hundreds of feet in the air, and was then carried eastwards by the prevailing wind.

    Image of fire, from Channel3000.com   Image of fire, from Channel3000.com  
    [Photographs of fire courtesy of www.channel3000.com]

    The weather on July 19 was clear across the region, and the smoke plume from the fire was readily visible in satellite imagery taken in the late morning and afternoon. As revealed by the satellite images shown below, by late morning the smoke plume extended past the city of Oconomowoc, and by mid-afternoon it reached central Lake Michigan, over 90 miles away. This webpage provides examples of some of the satellite images. The Landsat-5 satellite crossed over the area at 11:28 AM, and acquired an image of the local area at moderately high spatial resolution. At 2:20 PM the MODIS instrument onboard NASA's "Aqua" satellite acquired a coarser-resolution image of the entire western Great Lakes region, showing the full length of the plume (with less spatial detail).

Documents:

MODIS images:

True-color MODIS image of Wisconsin
    True-color image of Wisconsin, taken by the MODIS imaging system on NASA's "Aqua" satellite. MODIS collects imagery in 36 different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, including visible light, near-infrared, mid-infrared, and thermal-infrared wavelengths. This true-color image was created by displaying MODIS bands 1 (visible red wavelengths), 4 (visible green wavelengths), and 3 (visible blue wavelengths) in the same colors (red, green, and blue) on the computer monitor. The image was acquired by the Aqua satellite at 2:20 PM (CDT) on July 19, 2005. (128 kB jpeg).

Enlargement of true-color MODIS image
    Enlargement of the above true-color Aqua MODIS image showing the smoke plume. (48 kB jpeg).

Principal Components Image of Smoke Plume
    Principal Components image derived from Aqua MODIS data. Principal Components Analysis is a statistical technique that is used here to maximize the differences among different feature types in the imagery. In this case, it helps increase the apparent contrast between the smoke plume and the underlying land/water surface. (Note how difficult it is to see the smoke plume over Lake Michigan in the above true-color imagery.) For this analysis, MODIS bands 1-5 and 8 were used in the PCA (click here for a technical description [14 kB pdf]). The image here shows PCA bands 4 (displayed in red) and 3 (in green & blue). (14 kB jpeg).

Principal Components Image of Smoke Plume
    Principal Components image derived from Aqua MODIS data (see previous image caption for explanation). This image shows PCA band 3 shown in black & white. (11 kB jpeg).

Landsat images:
Ordered through USGS AmericaView - WisconsinView Data Services

Landsat-5 TM scene
    True-color image of southern Wisconsin, taken by the Thematic Mapper (TM) imaging system on the Landsat-5 satellite. The Landsat TM collects imagery in 7 different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, including visible light, near-infrared, mid-infrared, and thermal-infrared wavelengths. This true-color image was created by displaying TM bands 3 (visible red wavelengths), 2 (visible green wavelengths), and 1 (visible blue wavelengths) in the same colors (red, green, and blue) on the computer monitor. The image was acquired by Landsat-5 at 11:28 AM (CDT) on July 19, 2005. (115 kB jpeg).

Landsat-5 TM scene
    Enlargement of the above true-color Landsat image, showing the smoke plume (81 kB jpeg).

Watertown, WI
    High-resolution enlargement of the true-color Landsat image, showing the area around Watertown, Wisconsin, where the fire was occurring (88 kB jpeg).

Ixonia, WI
    High-resolution enlargement of the true-color Landsat image, showing the area around Ixonia, Wisconsin (87 kB jpeg).

Oconomowoc, WI
    High-resolution enlargement of the true-color Landsat image, showing the area around Oconomowoc, Wisconsin (93 kB jpeg).

Delafield, WI
    High-resolution enlargement of the true-color Landsat image, showing the area around Delafield, Wisconsin (101 kB jpeg).

Watertown, WI
    High-resolution enlargement of the Landsat image, showing the area around Watertown, Wisconsin, where the fire was occurring. This image is a false-color composite of TM bands 5 (mid-infrared wavelengths), 2 (visible green wavelengths) and 1 (visible blue wavelengths), displayed as red, green, and blue respectively. The prominent red "blob" represents heat being emitted by the fire. The fire's temperature was high enough to saturate the sensor's detector in band 5 (1550-1750 nm wavelength) as it scanned across the landscape. The bright line extending west from the fire represents a kind of "afterimage", where the sensor was temporarily "blinded" by the intense radiation from the blaze. (61 kB jpeg).

Watertown, WI
    High-resolution enlargement of the Landsat image, showing the area around Watertown, Wisconsin, where the fire was occurring. This image is a false-color composite of TM bands 7 (mid-infrared wavelengths), 2 (visible green wavelengths) and 1 (visible blue wavelengths), displayed as red, green, and blue respectively. The prominent red "blob" represents heat being emitted by the fire. The fire's temperature was high enough to saturate the sensor's detector in band 7 (2080-2350 nm wavelength) as it scanned across the landscape. The bright line extending west from the fire represents a kind of "afterimage", where the sensor was temporarily "blinded" by the intense radiation from the blaze. (61 kB jpeg).

Landsat band 1
    High-resolution enlargement of Landsat band #1 (visible blue wavelengths, 450-520 nm) (54 kB jpeg).

Landsat band 2
    High-resolution enlargement of Landsat band #2 (visible green wavelengths, 520-600 nm). (56 kB jpeg).

Landsat band 3
    High-resolution enlargement of Landsat band #3 (visible red wavelengths, 630-690 nm). (52 kB jpeg).

Landsat band 4
    High-resolution enlargement of Landsat band #4 (near-infrared wavelengths, 760-790 nm). (40 kB jpeg).

Landsat band 5
    High-resolution enlargement of Landsat band #5 (mid-infrared wavelengths, 1550-1750 nm). The prominent white "blob" represents heat being emitted by the fire. The fire's temperature was high enough to saturate the sensor's detector as it scanned across the landscape. The bright line extending west from the fire represents a kind of "afterimage", where the sensor was temporarily "blinded" by the intense radiation from the blaze. (39 kB jpeg).

Landsat band 6
    High-resolution enlargement of Landsat band #6 (thermal-infrared wavelengths, 10.4-12.5 micrometers). The prominent white "blob" represents heat being emitted by the fire. (29 kB jpeg).

Landsat band 7
    High-resolution enlargement of Landsat band #7 (mid-infrared wavelengths, 2080-2350 nm). The prominent white "blob" represents heat being emitted by the fire. The fire's temperature was high enough to saturate the sensor's detector as it scanned across the landscape. The bright line extending west from the fire represents a kind of "afterimage", where the sensor was temporarily "blinded" by the intense radiation from the blaze. (42 kB jpeg).

Media Coverage of the Fire:

  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/21/05, "Foam helps smother big tire fire" (external link)
  • Capital Times Tire fire photo gallery (external link)
  • Capital Times, 7/20/05, "Tires will smolder for days" (external link)
  • Capital Times Tire fire photo gallery (external link)
  • Wisconsin State Journal, 7/21/05, "State had told company to reduce tire pile" (external link)

Acknowledgments:

The collection and analysis of these data by the Environmental Remote Sensing Center was supported by projects funded by the following agencies:

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