Image from TERRA
Mon, 30 Oct 2017 12:25 EDT

Former Tropical Storm Saola transitioned into an extra-tropical storm on Oct. 29 as it tracked southeast of the big island of Japan.

Image from TERRA
Tue, 24 Oct 2017 11:36 EDT

When Typhoon Lan made landfall in Japan on Oct. 22, the Global Precipitation Measurement mission core satellite or GPM analyzed the storm and added up the high rainfall that it generated.

Image from TERRA
Tue, 24 Oct 2017 09:22 EDT

A new image from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument on NASA's Terra satellite shows the growing fire scar on the landscape.

Category: News and Events

News and Events

Monitoring Volcanoes from Space: Volcanoes, ASTER and MODIS

Images of Wolf volcano on June 11, 2016. Image on left is from ASTER, showing Wolf Volcano in great detail. The image on the right is from MODIS. The red mark indicates a temperature anomaly or hot spot. Image Credit: Aster image from NASA Earth Observatory by Jesse Allen, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. MODIS image from NASA Worldview.

Images of Wolf volcano on June 11, 2015. ASTER image (left) shows Wolf Volcano in great detail. MODIS image (right) red marks indicate temperature anomalies or hot spots. Image Credit: Aster image from NASA Earth Observatory by Jesse Allen, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. MODIS image from NASA Worldview.

Not every volcano is as closely observed as Mount Saint Helens in Washington state or Mount Kilauea of Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. These active volcanoes are closely monitored with specialized instruments dedicated to monitoring signs of volcanic activity. They are the exception, not the norm. Many volcanoes are remotely located and poorly monitored. However, NASA’s Terra satellite is helping identify potentially active volcanoes, better equipping surrounding communities to evacuate or take precautions before their local volcano erupts.

Two instruments on NASA’s Terra satellite, the Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emissions and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), along with instruments on other NASA and NOAA satellites are being used to identify and monitor potential areas of volcanic activity as part of the Urgent Request Protocol.

Not one satellite can do it all. “Monitoring of active volcanic processes using spaceborne data commonly requires different temporal, spatial and spectral scales depending on the science goal and process being observed,” according to Michael Ramsey from the University of Pittsburgh in his recent article, published on December 17, 2015.

Hotspots on Earth are identified by satellite images that have a thermal sensor, which measures the temperature, or infrared radiation, of Earth’s surface.MODIS, the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) and ASTER all collect data on Earth’s temperature, but each of these sensors have different spatial resolutions. MODIS and AVHRR image large areas frequently, but lack detail. ASTER, on the other hand, has high spatial and spectral resolution, but lacks frequency.

AVHRR, MODIS and ASTER teamed up as part of the Urgent Request Protocol. AVHRR data was initially used exclusively until 2011, when MODIS data was integrated into the system. AVHRR and MODIS identify temperature changes on Earth’s surface that could indicate volcanic activity. These areas are flagged as being potentially active. When they are flagged, these locations are sent automatically to the Urgent Request Protocol database, where a request is submitted that ASTER look at these locations more closely on its next opportunity.

This allows stakeholders to potentially track detailed changes on that site every time ASTER passes. Prior to 2011, scientists manually reviewed flagged hotspots before being submitted to the Urgent Request Protocol for imaging by ASTER.

One benefit of using MODIS data over AVHRR is that it allows the system to be automated because MODIS data has less noise than AVHRR and has a higher detection threshold, reducing the number of false positives detected. Additionally, MODIS data is part of a global system where as the volcanic monitoring from AVHRR is isolated to the north Pacific region.

Beyond its global reach, the Urgent Request Protocol is one of the longest running programs focused on mission operations and volcanic science. Stakeholders and scientists anticipate the launch of the Hyperspectral Infrared Imager (HyspIRI), which will have a thermal infrared imager similar to ASTER on board. Information acquired by ASTER is used in the development of HyspIRI and future thermal infrared sensors, contributing to the extended satellite record and the next generation of Earth observing satellites tracking volcanic threats from space.

Watching from their vantage point outside of Earth, satellites will continue to witness volcanic eruptions and volcanic activity. While no one satellite can see the whole picture, when multiple satellites with the ability to measure Earth’s temperature frequently or in great detail are used together like in the Urgent Request Protocol, people benefit. The strong foundation laid by the Urgent Request Protocol will allow new data from the next fleet of satellites to continue to help people prepare for volcanic incidents.

Terra on NASA’s Earth Observatory – March

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Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

March 5, 2016
Eruption at Momotombo– The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer on NASA’s Terra Satellite aquired this false color image of Momotombo volcano in Nicaragua erupting on March 2, 2016.


March 16, 2016
Flooding in the U.S. South– The Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA’s Terra Satellite captured images of the flooding waters on the Mississippi River and White River in the southern United States.


March 18, 2016
Sand Mining at Poyang Lake– As part of an effort to assess the scale of the sand mining and its environmental impacts, a group of researchers analyzed data collected by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) sensor on NASA’s Terra satellite. Using infrared data collected by ASTER in 2005, the researchers found that the lake was producing up to 236 million cubic meters of sand per year—about 9 percent of the total produced by China. The researchers estimated that the volume of sand removed was probably enough to make Poyang Lake the largest sand mining operation in the world.


March 19, 2016
Northern California Floodway Fills– The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured  images of the river and floodway in northern California.  Storms in March 2016 brought water levels in this drought stricken region back to it’s historic average.

ASTER First Light After Safe Hold

ASTER First Light After Safe Hold

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

Terra and its sensors are back on line and collecting data.  The ASTER team released this first light image. The area is in Queensland, Australia where the Elliott River meets the Pacific Ocean. To the south of the river is the Burrum Coast National Park, appearing deep red. The brighter red areas to the east of the National Park is farmland. North of the River is the small town of Elliott Heads with a population of less than 900 people.

Terra is Back

The Terra Satellite is currently back in operation.  MODIS, MISR and CERES are all collecting data.  Terra’s international sensors, MOPITT and ASTER, will begin collecting data soon.

MODIS’s New Vegetation Index: Ecosystem Sensitivity and Climate Variability

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Global contribution of three climate variables to the vegetation sensitivity index from 2000–2013. Temperature is in red, water availability in blue and cloudiness in green. Areas with dominant barren land and permanent ice are grey. Image credit: Sensitivity of global terrestrial ecosystems to climate variability. Alistair W. R. Seddon, Marc Macias-Fauria, Peter R. Long, David Benz & Kathy J. Willis. Nature. (2016) doi:10.1038/nature16986

MODIS data from the past 14 years is being used to generate a model that assesses how different ecosystems respond to climate variability, making it possible to compare regional sensitivity and resilience. The new index is called the vegetation sensitivity index, which makes it possible to compare vulnerability of different regions, looking at why some areas are more vulnerable than others.

The new index is unique.  Most studies about ecosystem resilience typically monitor productivity or biodiversity trends over an average climate, such as the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) or the enhanced vegetation index (EVI), which also uses MODIS data. This new index instead looks at response to climate variation.

Read the news article from Nature.

Read the journal article from Nature.