From space we can understand fires in ways that that are impossible from the ground. New Earth observing satellites capture the significant impact of fires on our planet.
In this animation of fires around the globe in 2002, each red dot marks a new fire. Dots change color to yellow after a few days and to black when fires burn out.
From brush fires in Africa to forest fires in North America, satellites are locating every significant fire on Earth to within one kilometer. In the summer and fall burning seasons, particularly destructive fires occurred in Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon.
Data from multiple satellites can be used to study the relationship between environmental factors and fires.
We first consider clouds and rainfall. High rainfall rates are shown in red and orange. Lack of rainfall in the Western United States heightens the risk for fire.
Combining clouds with aerosol data traces how winds carry smoke particles to distant locations.
Satellite sensors also reveal different types of landcover--from croplands to forests--this data can be useful in assessing fire damage.
From the continental scale we zoom in to closely study three large fires.
In June 2002, Colorado experienced the Hayman fire, which burned for nearly a month. A stereoscopic sensor measures the smoke plume spreading over Denver in three dimensions. Next we bring in landcover data to learn what the fire destroyed. The Hayman fire stayed mostly in evergreen and savannah areas.
Overlapping in time with the Hayman fire, was the Rodeo-Chediski fire in Arizona. Two separate fires merged into the largest fire in state history. High resolution land data shows burned areas in red. A broader perspective highlights giant smoke plumes that waft in all directions.
Almost one week later the Biscuit fire began in southern Oregon. Here we watch the fire burn as clouds and smoke come and go. Biscuit ravaged 500,000 acres of forest over two months. This close up view follows the fire's spread and resulting destruction. Thermal data precisely locates burned areas, colored dark purple, and active fires, colored bright purple. All of the destroyed forest was of the evergreen needleleaf variety.
Biscuit and other North American fires happen in a global weather context measuring ocean winds from space adds one more piece to the puzzle of understanding our Earth as a system.