From Smoke Going Round the World to Aerosol Levels, NASA Observes Australia's Bushfires

January 14, 2020

From Smoke Going Round the World to Aerosol Levels, NASA Observes Australia's Bushfires

NASA scientists using data from its NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite, has traced the movement of the smoke coming off the Australian fires across the globe showing that it has circumnavigated the Earth. In an image created from data gathered by the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) Nadir Mapper on Suomi NPP, a black circle shows the smoke which had been traced from its origins coming back to the eastern region of Australia after having traveled around the world. Suomi NPP carries carry five science instruments and is the first satellite mission to address the challenge of acquiring a wide range of land, ocean, and atmospheric measurements for Earth system science while simultaneously preparing to address operational requirements for weather forecasting. Suomi NPP also represents the gateway to the creation of a U.S. climate monitoring system, collecting both climate and operational weather data and continuing key data records that are critical for global change science.

This image was taken on Jan. 13, 2020 by NOAA/NASA's Suomi NPP satellite. The image shows the fires in eastern Australia and using the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) several reflective bands have been introduced into the image to highli

This image was taken on Jan. 13, 2020 by NOAA/NASA's Suomi NPP satellite. The image shows the fires in eastern Australia and using the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) several reflective bands have been introduced into the image to highlight areas that have been burned as well as smoke and clouds coming off the fire affected areas. Burned areas or fire-affected areas are characterized by deposits of charcoal and ash, removal of vegetation and/or the alteration of vegetation structure. Areas unaffected by fire will appear bright green. Clouds comprised of small water droplets scatter light equally in both the visible and will appear white. These clouds are usually lower to the ground and warmer. High and cold clouds are comprised of ice crystals and will appear turquoise. On the left edge of the image, Kangaroo Island can be seen. Credits: NASA's Worldview

NASA’s satellite instruments are often the first to detect wildfires burning in remote regions, and the locations of new fires are sent directly to land managers worldwide within hours of the satellite overpass. Together, NASA instruments detect actively burning fires, track the transport of smoke from fires, provide information for fire management, and map the extent of changes to ecosystems, based on the extent and severity of burn scars. NASA has a fleet of Earth-observing instruments, many of which contribute to our understanding of fire in the Earth system. Satellites in orbit around the poles provide observations of the entire planet several times per day, whereas satellites in a geostationary orbit provide coarse-resolution imagery of fires, smoke and clouds every five to 15 minutes. 

NASA satellites can show the movement of the smoke across the globe as evidenced above, but other instruments found onboard can give scientists, firefighters, health experts, local government, and others information about what is happening on the ground in real-time.