African Fire Observations and MODIS NDVI

From space, we can understand fires in ways that are impossible from the ground. The MODIS instrument onboard the Terra and Aqua satellite, was specifically designed to detect fires. As a result, it can see both smaller fires and a wide range of fires from cool grass fires to raging forest fires. Burning carbon particles both on the tiny soot particles in the flame and on the fuel itself emit a very specific wavelength of light, 3.8 to 4 microns. NASA research has contributed to much improved detection of fire for scientific purposes using satellite remote sensing and geographic information systems. This has helped advance our understanding of the impacts of fire in many areas of earth science, including atmospheric chemistry and the impacts on protected areas. This research has led to the development of a rapid response system widely used throughout the world for both natural resource management and for firefighting by providing near real-time information.

The visualization shows fires detected in Africa from July 2002 through July 2011. 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 alone. "It's incredibly satisfying to see such a long record of fires visualized," said Chris Justice, a scientist from the University of Maryland who leads NASA's effort to use MODIS data to study the world's fires. "It's not only exciting visually, but what you see here is a very good representation of the data scientists use to understand the global distribution of fires and to determine where and how fires are responding to climate change and population growth."

More information on the Fire Information for Resource Management (FIRMS) is available at

Visualization Credits

Lori Perkins (NASA/GSFC): Lead Animator
Greg Shirah (NASA/GSFC): Animator
Kayvon Sharghi (USRA): Producer
Chris Justice (University of Maryland): Scientist
Louis Giglio (SSAI): Scientist
Luigi Boschetti Ph.D. (University Of Maryland College Park): Scientist
Adam P Voiland (Wyle Information Systems): Writer
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

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Data Used:
Terra and Aqua/MODIS/Fire Location
Terra and Aqua/MODIS/Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)

Dates of Data Used:
July 2002 through July 2011

This item is part of these series:
Multisensor Fire Observations
Agriculture Animations - Fires

DLESE >> Atmospheric science
DLESE >> Forestry
DLESE >> Natural hazards
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Biosphere >> Ecological Dynamics >> Fire Occurrence
SVS >> For Educators
SVS >> Fire
SVS >> Ecosystems
SVS >> Natural Disaster
SVS >> Natural Disaster >> Fire
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