Earth  ID: 3075

Biomass Burning over South America

Biomass burning is the burning of living and dead vegetation. It includes the human-initiated burning of vegetation for land clearing and land-use change as well as natural, lightning-induced fires. Scientists estimate that humans are responsible for about 90% of biomass burning with only a small percentage of natural fires contributing to the total amount of vegetation burned. Burning vegetation releases large amounts of particulates (solid carbon combustion particles) and gases, including greenhouse gases that help warm the Earth. Studies suggest that biomass burning has increased on a global scale over the last 100 years, and computer calculations indicate that a hotter Earth resulting from global warming will lead to more frequent and larger fires. Biomass burning particulates impact climate and can also affect human health when they are inhaled, causing respiratory problems. Here are three images of South America on October 7, 2004. The first image shows clouds and fires on that day. The second image is clouds and nitrous dioxide (NO2) concentrations in the stratosphere. The last image overlays the fires on the NO2 data.

Visualization Credits

Lori Perkins (NASA/GSFC): Lead Animator
Greg Shirah (NASA/GSFC): Animator
Mark Schoeberl (NASA/GSFC): Scientist
Ernest Hilsenrath (NASA/GSFC): Scientist
Pepijn Veefkind (Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute KNMI): Scientist
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Fire location data courtesy of MODIS Rapid Response Project (NASA/GSFC and University of Maryland -

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Data Used:
Terra and Aqua/MODIS/Fire Location 2004/10/07
Aura/OMI 2004/10/07

This item is part of this series:
Aura First Light

Goddard TV Tape:

DLESE >> Atmospheric science
SVS >> Biomass
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Biosphere >> Ecological Dynamics >> Fire Occurrence
SVS >> Copenhagen
NASA Science >> Earth

GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation: Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version