NASA Earth Observatory map by Joshua Stevens and Jesse Allen, using data from the Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS) and the State of the Climate in 2014 report. Caption by Adam Voiland.
On Earth, there is always something burning. On a typical day in August, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites detect approximately 10,000 active fires, as well as huge swaths of freshly charred land in ecosystems ranging from boreal forests to savanna to tropical forests.
In order to determine how much carbon dioxide and other pollutants all these fires contribute to the atmosphere in a given year, scientists have developed computer models that combine satellite observations of burned area and active fires together with information about vegetation, fuel loads, and other details. Data produced by two computer modeling efforts—the Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS) and the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED)—were highlighted in NOAA’s 2014 State of the Climate report, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Read more
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption and image cropping by Adam Voiland.
The 2015 fire season got off to an unusually early start in Canada when blazes broke out in the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, and Alberta in late May. As the season has progressed, the air in western Canada—as well as large swaths of the United States—grew gray and hazy with smoke.
Beginning on June 28, a sharp trough in the jet stream sent a river of smoke streaming south into the United States. By June 29, smoke darkened the skies over much of Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa.
On June 29, 2015, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of smoke from hundreds of wildfires in western Canada. Read more
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Adam Voiland, with information from Daniel Lindsey (NOAA) and Rick McRae (Australian Capital Territory Emergency Services Agency).
The intense bushfires that strike southern Australia in the summer usually attract the most headlines, but the country’s largest and most frequent blazes actually occur in northern Australia in the spring. In fact, in terms of sheer area burned, satellite observations show that over 98 percent of large fires in Australia occur well outside of densely populated southeastern and southwestern parts of the country.
A fire that began burning in Northern Territory on September 10, 2014, offers a prime example of just how expansive fires from this part of the continent can become. After racing through grasslands for just a few weeks, the fire had charred an area about the size of Massachusetts by October 8, 2014.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this sequence of images showing the progression of the fire. Read more
NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Caption by Adam Voiland.
The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of farmland near LaCrosse, Washington, on July 24, 2008. The false-color image was assembled using infrared, red, and green wavelengths of light. This combination is useful for observing vegetation and monitoring its health. Areas with the most vigorous crops, grasses, and trees are bright red. Areas where vegetation is drying or dormant are darker shades of brown and gray. Areas with no red are likely fallow or being prepared for seeding. Read more
A combination of lightning and dry forests fueled numerous wildfires in Canada’s Northwest Territories in July 2014. The fires, burning in Canada’s boreal zone, are producing dense smoke. As of July 8, at least 164 blazes had charred more than 425,172 hectares (1,642 square miles), according to the Canadian government. The fires destroyed one home, forced hundreds of people to evacuate, and sent smoke drifting as far south as the continental United States.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of smoke billowing from wildfires near Faber Lake on July 7, 2014. Read more
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Adam Voiland.