Resource Spotlight

Wildfires

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Wildland fire is an essential process connecting terrestrial systems to the atmosphere and climate. As vegetation burns, it releases smoke, carbon, and other materials into the atmosphere. These fires also release nutrients into the soil and are an integral part of ecological succession, plant germination, and soil enhancement. 

NASA's Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program provides unrestricted access to data, services, and tools that enable resource managers, disaster management teams, and scientists to understand and monitor environmental conditions before a fire starts, measure the intensity and development of fires during a burn, and assess the environmental and socioeconomic effects and impacts after a burn. Additional resources are available through NASA's Applied Sciences Wildfires program area and other agency initiatives.

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The number of U.S. wildfires in 2021 (red bar) was slightly lower than the 5- and 10-year averages (blue bars on right). Click on image for larger view. Credit: NIFC.

The number, severity, and overall size of wildfires has increased, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through contributing factors including extended drought, the build-up of fuels, past fire management strategies, invasive species targeting specific tree species, and the spread of residential communities into formerly natural areas. In 2021, 58,985 wildfires were reported across the U.S. that consumed 7,125,643 acres, according to the 2021 Annual Report by the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC). But wildfires also have a human component, and the NICC report notes that "a total of 5,972 structures were reported destroyed by wildfires in 2021, including 3,577 residences, 2,225 minor structures, and 237 commercial/mixed residential structures. In 2021, California accounted for the highest number of structures lost in one state: 2,031 residences, 196 commercial/mixed residential structures, and 1,136 minor structures."

Along with near real-time wildfire data available through NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS, described below), current U.S. wildfire statistics are available through the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

Wildfires Data Pathfinder

The Wildfires Data Pathfinder directs users to NASA datasets that can aid in forecasting events, monitoring ongoing events, and assessing post-fire areas. The Data Pathfinder also provides access to tools and applications for discovering, visualizing, and working with wildfire-related resources in NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) collection.

Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) and FIRMS US/Canada

NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) distributes global near real-time (NRT) active fire data within three hours after an observation by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) aboard the joint NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) and NOAA-20 satellites. FIRMS is part of NASA's Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE).

Thermal anomalies detected by MODIS or VIIRS are defined as the center of a 1-km pixel (MODIS) or a 375 m pixel (VIIRS) flagged as containing one or more fires or other thermal anomalies (such as an active volcano). Detected anomalies are plotted as orange (MODIS) or red (VIIRS) dots within three hours of a satellite observation and indicate the approximate location of a potential wildfire or other thermal anomaly.

LANCE FIRMS developers partnered with the USDA Forest Service to create FIRMS US/Canada. FIRMS US/Canada offers additional contextual layers and enhancements, including incident locations, links to incident reports, improved classification of fires to show time since detection to better depict active fire fronts, and other information for current large fires in the U.S. and Canada. FIRMS US/Canada also provides U.S. and Canadian administrative ownership boundaries and interagency fire management boundaries, daily fire danger forecasts, and current National Weather Service fire weather watch and red flag warning areas.

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This FIRMS US/Canada Fire Map screenshot was acquired June 17, 2022, and shows basic information about the Fish fire in Arizona. The layer picker on the right allows users to control the display of fires, active alerts, background maps, and other imagery overlays. Click on image for larger view. Explore the FIRMS US/Canada Fire Map. Credit: NASA FIRMS.

Worldview and the Worldview Image of the Week Archive

The NASA Worldview data visualization application gives users the ability to interactively browse and view natural events as they are seen by NASA’s constellation of satellites, including wildfire data available through FIRMS. Natural event metadata used in Worldview are curated and provided by NASA's Earth Observatory Natural Event Tracker (EONET) API. Worldview uses NASA's Global Imagery Browse Services (GIBS) to retrieve imagery rapidly for interactive browsing. The Worldview Image of the Week Archive showcases a wide range of Worldview imagery and data.

Interactively Explore Wildfire Data in NASA Worldview

Just as in FIRMS, clicking on an orange (MODIS detected) or a red (VIIRS detected) dot in Worldview reveals attribute information about the thermal anomaly, including the approximate geographic coordinates of the detected hotspot, the intensity of the anomaly, and the date the anomaly was first detected.

The embedded Worldview map below allows you to interactively explore some of the wildfire resources available through Worldview. The example shows a list of fire events between June 7 and June 17, 2022. Clicking on an event in the Layer List or on the map allows you to see more information and related resources for that event. Clicking on an orange dot brings up vector information about a detected hotspot (you may need to zoom in to activate the vector layer). On the embedded map, you can also change the date in the lower left corner to see how the fires have progressed over time. Click on the icon in the upper right corner of the map to open the full version of Worldview in a new browser tab to continue the exploration by adding relevant imagery layers, setting up an animation, and much more!

 

Articles and Data User Profiles

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Along with data available through Earthdata Search, Earthdata articles provide a wealth of background about wildfires, missions collecting wildfire-related data, and how these data are being applied. Data User Profiles show how individual scientists and researchers are using EOSDIS data to explore the ecological impact of wildfires and help communities deal with these events.

Recent Articles

Wildfires Can't Hide from Earth Observing Satellites
Sensors aboard Earth observing satellites and NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) provide information about wildfires 24/7 to anyone, anywhere in the world.

NASA, Forest Service Partnership Expands Active Fire Mapping Capabilities
A new Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) focused on the U.S. and Canada provides expanded capabilities including additional map layers, ownership boundaries, and daily fire dangers.

Evolution of a Wildfire
Shows how remotely sensed Earth-observing satellite data can be used to monitor and fight wildfires raging in the more remote parts of the world.

Other Relevant Articles and Resources

Wildfire Articles
Collection of articles, Data User Profiles, and other resources organized by wildfire topic.

FIRMS Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Relevant Data User Profiles

  • Dr. Laura Bourgeau-Chavez studies the effects of wildfire in boreal-arctic regions.
  • Dr. Nancy French looks at the relationships between wildfire and carbon cycling.
  • Dr. Charles Ichoku uses remotely sensed data to map the effects of biomass burning in Northern Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Dave Jones enables collaborative use of Earth science data in real-time across platforms by emergency responders and managers.
  • Dr. Steven Massie uses remotely-sensed data to better understand the impacts of aerosols from fires and other sources on climate and human health.

Explore more Data User Profiles

Webinars

NASA Earthdata Webinars span the Earth science disciplines and are designed to help users learn about NASA Earth observing data, services, and tools and show users how to work with these resources.

Data Recipes and Tutorials

Data recipes are step-by-step instructions for using and working with Earth science data, information, tools, and services. Tutorials cover many different data products across the Earth science disciplines and different data discovery and data access tools, including programming languages and related software.

Additional Resources

NASA's Earth Science Applied Sciences Program uses Earth-observing data and applied research to improve the prediction of, preparation for, response to, and recovery from disasters around the world, and the program has a number of resources relevant to wildfire. The Applied Sciences Wildfire program area provides applications and tools based on NASA’s wealth of Earth observations to help communities manage the impacts of fire and is part of a network of collaborators working to reduce wildfire risks before, during and after events.

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Credit: NASA Applied Sciences/California National Guard.

One collaborative effort in which the Applied Sciences Wildfire program area is involved is a new NASA initiative called NASA FireSense. NASA FireSense brings together data, technology, research, flights, aeronautics, innovation, and applications to create the next generation of tools and science-informed capabilities for wildfire adapted communities and to enable society to live sustainably with wildland fires. The initiative includes efforts from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (which includes NASA's Earth Science Division), NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, and NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

The Applied Sciences Disasters program area is the home to the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal: Wildfires. The portal provides links to NASA Disasters program resources and features Event Response Story Maps, Event Response galleries, smoke plume height examples, and wildfire damage proxy maps.

Detailed information about NASA resources and missions used for wildfire research, analysis, and tracking is available through the NASA Fire mission page. In addition, NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio has created a wide range of wildfire products, and numerous articles about the uses and applications of wildfire Earth observation data are available through NASA's Earth Observatory.

Last Updated
Jun 13, 2022