Rim Fire: Chasing the blaze

As firefighters struggled to contain this summer’s Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Craig Clements and his students were on the scene.

Clements, an associate professor in SJSU’s Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, studies conditions inside and around blazes, seeking to learn how the fire and atmosphere interact, with the goal of predicting how fast and far the blaze will burn. With funding from the National Science Foundation, Clements developed a mobile atmospheric profiling system. The truck pulls a compact trailer loaded with the latest tools, including lidar and sodar, which uses light and sound waves to track winds.

One of the only scientists in the world studying wildfire-atmosphere interactions, Clements, along with his students, made multiple visits to the fire. They went to Dodge Ridge ski resort and scanned the downwind plume from below. They drove to Yosemite and scanned the plume from the Crane Flat lookout near Highway 120 within the park. And they worked with NASA to fly the plume in an aircraft to collect air chemistry data. Clements and the students are now processing data that could one day save lives.

—Pat Lopes Harris

Watch a video about Clements’ mobile lab.

Jody Ulate

Jody Ulate, '05 MA English, is editor of the Washington Square blog and printed alumni magazine.

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