Spotlighting the World's Fires

Two NASA satellites have mapped 40 million fires all over the world during the past decade, providing data useful to firefighters and to scientists investigating climate change. A new satellite is set to launch Oct. 28.

NASA conducted a web chat Oct. 26 featuring Dr. Amber Soja, Ph.D., a senior research scientist with NASA's Langley Research Center. Her topic was the patterns and impacts of fires around the world.

Two NASA satellites have been mapping the global distribution of fires for a decade. On Oct. 28, NASA plans to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California the newest satellite to carry out this mission: the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project, described as a state-of-the-art Earth-observing instrument package.

The two existing satellites have mapped 40 million fires so far, including the central Texas wildfires of 2011 that were so destructive. The number of fires is striking: On a typical August day, the satellites detect about 10,000 active fires.

Both climate scientists and firefighters benefit from the data, which provide a much more comprehensive picture of the world's fire volume than was possible before.

Only about 2 percent of the world's fires occur in North America, while about 70 percent are in Africa, according to NASA's online pages devoted to the research and its significance.

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