Combining satellite observations with a computer model reveals fire's global reach.
Fire is a powerful force on our planet. From South America's rainforests to Africa's savannas to Australia's highlands, fires touch 30 percent of the land surface. Yet—whether naturally occurring or set by humans—fires' effects reach far beyond ravaged lands. Combining satellite observations of fires with a computer model reveals how. The MODIS instruments onboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites detect fires as small as 250 meters across and measure carbon aerosols within the smoke. Black carbon (soot) impacts air quality and human health, while black and organic carbon both contribute to climate change. A NASA scientist fed fire and other observations into the GEOS-5/GOCART atmosphere model to simulate aerosols' global travels. In a visualization covering September 1, 2006 to April 10, 2007, watch as myriad fires dotting the continents spew carbon-laced smoke clouds that expand and twist along the winds.