NASA releases visual tour of Earth's fires

Oct 20, 2011
Africa experiences more extensive burning than any other region of the world. In July of this year, extensive fires covered much of the continent. The brightest fires, as observed by the MODIS instrument, are shown in orange and yellow. Credit: NASA

NASA has released a series of new satellite data visualizations that show tens of millions of fires detected worldwide from space since 2002. The visualizations show fire observations made by the MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, instruments onboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites.

NASA maintains a comprehensive research program using satellites, aircraft and ground resources to observe and analyze fires around the world. The research helps scientists understand how fire affects our environment on local, regional and global scales.

"What you see here is a very good representation of the satellite data scientists use to understand the global distribution of fires and to determine where and how fire distribution is responding to and population growth," said Chris Justice of the University of Maryland, College Park, a scientist who leads NASA's effort to use MODIS data to study the world's fires.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

One of the new visualizations takes viewers on a narrated global tour of fires detected between July 2002 and July 2011. The fire data is combined with satellite views of vegetation and snow cover to show how fires relate to . The Terra and Aqua satellites were launched in 1999 and 2002, respectively.

The tour begins by showing extensive grassland fires spreading across interior Australia and the eucalyptus forests in the northwestern and eastern part of the continent. The tour then shifts to Asia where large numbers of agricultural fires are visible first in China in June 2004, then across a huge swath of Europe and western
Russia in August. It then moves across India and Southeast Asia, through the early part of 2005. The tour continues across Africa, South America, and concludes in North America.

The global fire data show that Africa has more abundant burning than any other continent. MODIS observations have shown that some 70 percent of the world's fires occur in Africa. During a fairly average burning season from July through September 2006, the visualizations show a huge outbreak of savanna fires in Central Africa driven mainly by agricultural activities, but also driven by lightning strikes.

Satellite instruments observed large actively-burning wildfires in Texas this April. To the north, agricultural fires dot the landscape across Oklahoma and Kansas. The brightest fires, as observed by the MODIS instrument, are shown in orange and yellow. Credit: NASA

Fires are comparatively rare in North America, making up just 2 percent of the world's burned area each year. The fires that receive the most attention in the United States -- the uncontrolled forest fires in the West -- are less visible than the wave of agricultural fires prominent in the Southeast and along the Mississippi River Valley. Some of the large wildfires that ravaged Texas this year are visible in the animation.

NASA maintains multiple satellite instruments capable of detecting fires and supports a wide range of fire-related research. Such efforts have yielded the most widely used data records of global activity and burned area in the world. NASA-supported scientists use the data to advance understanding about Earth's climate system, ecosystem health, and the global carbon cycle.

NASA's Applied Sciences Program seeks out innovative and practical benefits that result from studying fires. For example, the program has found ways to integrate space-based wildfire observations into air quality models used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that help protect public health.

NASA will extend the United States' capability to monitor and study global fires from space with the launch this month of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project. The satellite is the first mission designed to collect data to increase our understanding of long-term climate change and improve weather forecasts.

One of National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project's new, state-of-the-art science instruments will provide scientists with data to extend the long-term global fires data record. The satellite is targeted to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Oct. 28. The mission is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., for the Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Explore further: US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Transcontinental wildfire emissions monitored from space

May 08, 2007

Using data from the SCIAMACHY instrument aboard ESA’s environmental satellite Envisat, scientists have determined that the carbon monoxide hovering over Australia during the wildfire season largely originated ...

World fire maps now available online in near-real time

May 24, 2006

For a decade now, ESA satellites have been continuously surveying fires burning across the Earth’s surface. Worldwide fire maps based on this data are now available to users online in near real time through ...

European hot spots and fires identified from space

Aug 27, 2007

Hot spots across Southeastern Europe from 21 to 26 August have been detected with instruments aboard ESA satellites, which have been continuously surveying fires burning across the Earth’s surface for a ...

Recommended for you

US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

Apr 18, 2014

The United States announced Friday a fresh delay on a final decision regarding a controversial Canada to US oil pipeline, saying more time was needed to carry out a review.

New research on Earth's carbon budget

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...