From space, we can understand fires in ways that are impossible from the ground. NASA research has contributed to much improved detection of fire for scientific purposes using satellite remote sensing and geographic information systems. This visualization of South America shows fire observations made by MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on board the Terra and Aqua satellites . South America exhibits a steady flickering of fire across much of the Amazon rainforest with peaks of activity in September and November. Almost all of the fires in the Amazon are the direct result of human activity, including slash-and-burn agriculture, because the high moisture levels in the region prevent inhibit natural fires from occurring.
This animation shows fires over MODIS NDVI in South America from July 2002 through July 2011. The still image seen here is from July 15, 2007 where fires scorched more than 3 million acres. Naturally ocurring fires are not uncommon in the drier forests and grasslands of South America, but this type of intense, continent-spanning fire activity is almost certainly a product of human activities.
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 126.96.36.199.0