Wildland fire research and applications spans across multiple NASA programs, and fire itself, is an integral natural process that acts to maintain ecosystem biodiversity and structure.  Wildland fire, which includes any non-structure fire that occurs in vegetation or natural fuels, is an essential process that connects terrestrial systems to the atmosphere and climate.  However, the effects of fire can be disastrous, both immediately (e.g., poor air quality, loss of life and property) and through post-fire impacts (floods, debris flows/landslides, poor water quality).

NASA Earth observations and models are used to support pre-, active- and post-fire research, as well as the applicable use of these data and products in support of management decisions and strategies, policy planning and in setting rules and regulations.  A few examples are provided below that highlight NASA capabilities and our ability to engage partners and provide information to stakeholder communities.  

Active Fire Assessment

Working with NASA research and applied communities, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USFS), an enhanced active fire detection (Thermal Anomaly) algorithm and product was developed and is in use operationally.  These new data are derived using data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite.  These enhanced data products provide higher spatial resolution and are publically available worldwide:

The USFS and NASA work closely to ensure data are quickly available for regional planning, fire identification and model initialization.  Summarized satellite and fire data that are applicable to fire management communities are available through the USFS website

Disaster Mitigation

Through the NASA Applied Science Program Wildland Fires, Principle Investigators and their teams have rapidly responded to numerous national and international fire events to provide information critical to disaster mitigation.  For example, the Fort Mc Murray fire burned in Alberta, Canada from 1 May to 5 July 2016 and consumed 607,028 hectares (6,070 km^2).  The fire forced more than 80,000 people from their homes, and it is the costliest disaster in Canadian history (estimated $3.58 billion).

Tracing smoke: Implications for air quality, health and climate

NASA data are capable of viewing a slice of smoke through the atmosphere and tracking these smoke-laden emissions around the Earth.  With this type of lidar data, we are able to accurately estimate the height of smoke; this is significant because smoke travels faster at higher altitudes.  With this information, we are able to provide accurate air quality warnings.

Near Real-time Fire Emissions

This application from the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal animates the past week of GFED near real-time data. Carbon emissions are shown by default, but you can click the “layers” icon in the upper right to toggle the display of other emissions such as methane, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Credit: NASA

View on the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal

View NASA Earth Data Products for Fires

Tools & Resources

  • NASA Earthdata Pathfinders - Wildfires
  • NASA Wildfires Program
  • Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS): The Global Wildfire Information System is a joint initiative of the GEO and the Copernicus Work Programs. The Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS) aims at bringing together existing information sources at regional and national level in order to provide a comprehensive view and evaluation of fire regimes and fire effects at global level.
  • Global Fire Weather Database (GFWED): The Global Fire WEather Database (GFWED) integrates different weather factors influencing the likelihood of a vegetation fire starting and spreading. It is based on the Fire Weather Index (FWI) System, the most widely used fire weather system in the world. 
  • FirecastA tool by Conservation International, Firecast uses satellite observations to track ecosystem disturbances such as fires, fire risk conditions, deforestation, and protected area encroachment, and delivers this time-sensitive information to decision makers through email alerts, maps, and reports.


Latest Updates

November 12, 2020
Photograph of smoke rising from fires on the east coast of Australia, taken by ISS astronauts on January 4th, 2020. Credit: NASA Crew Earth Observations (CEO)
David E. Borges, physical scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center for NASA's Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program, recently wrote a post for the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Voices Blog to explore how Earth observations can support disaster risk reduction strategies. The DRR Voices Blog is a part of, the online knowledge platform for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), an organization that brings governments, partners and...
October 16, 2020
This natural-color image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite shows a pyrocumulonimbus cloud forming from the the Creek Fire on September 5th, 2020. Credit: NASA Worldview.
The Creek Fire in Sierra National Forest has become one of the largest fires in California history, and has destroyed 286,519 acres in Fresno and Madera Counties as of September 24 according to media reports. Researchers working with the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program to study the air quality impacts of the fires used multiple Earth observing instruments to track the transport of smoke into the atmosphere from the Creek Fire. These observations show the smoke plume from these fires reaching all the way into the stratosphere – a relatively rare phenomena that was last seen in...
September 24, 2020
The map on the left shows the location and amount of fires detected by MODIS in California in July and August 2020, while the map on the right shows the location and severity of drier-than-average soil moisture conditions. These data show that more fires
Researchers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center used data from the NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite to track the correlation between soil moisture conditions and wildfire susceptibility in the 2020 California wildfire season. The top chart shows the number of fires detected in Northern California from September 2019 through August 2020, while bottom chart shows how the soil moisture deviates from average conditions over the same time period (also known as soil...
September 21, 2020
Map showing likely damaged areas in Angeles National Forest on September 7th, 8th, 13th, and 14th
As fires continue to rage in California and across the western U.S., NASA’s Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program is aiding local agencies by using satellite and airborne instruments to help track the burned areas and map damage to infrastructure and the environment.  Map showing likely damaged areas in Angeles National Forest on September 7th, 8th, 13th, and 14th. Credits: Sentinel-1 data were accessed through the Copernicus Open Access Hub and the NASA mirror...
September 18, 2020
The August Complex fire formed under very hot and dry conditions in northern California on August 17th, 2020. Reportedly, 37 individual fires initiated by lightning strikes merged to create this conflagration, which claimed the life of one firefighter on August 31st, 2020 according to the U.S. Forest Service. Researchers from the MISR Active Aerosol Plume-Height (AAP) Project, based out of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland, along with colleagues from JPL and the NASA Langley Research Center used data from multiple Earth observing satellites to map the properties...
September 16, 2020
NASA's C-20A research aircraft takes off with the UAVSAR instrument attached below during an earlier flight from Edwards Air Force Base near Palmdale, California. Credits: NASA
Video of NASA Armstrong & JPL Take Flight to Study California's Wildfire Burn Areas While the agency's satellites image the wildfires from space, scientists are flying over burn areas, using smoke-penetrating technology to better understand the damage. A NASA aircraft equipped with a powerful radar took to the skies this month, beginning a science campaign to learn more about several wildfires that have scorched vast areas of California. The flights are being used to identify structures damaged in the fires while also mapping burn areas that may be at...
September 16, 2020
Damage Proxy Map of the LNU Lightning Complex fires showing likely damaged areas in red and yellow.
As record-setting fires continue to ravage the western United States, with large fire complexes currently burning in California, Oregon, Washington State, and Colorado, coordinators and scientists from the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program are hard at work developing maps, imagery and analysis to aid local agencies and response teams in understanding the impacts from the fires and the potential risks to people, infrastructure, and the environment. In late August the...
September 12, 2020
OMPS shows smoke plumes from the California fires
Climate and fire scientists have long anticipated that fires in the U.S. West would grow larger, more intense, and more dangerous. But even the most experienced among them have been at a loss for words in describing the scope and intensity of the fires burning in West Coast states in September 2020. Lightning initially triggered many of the fires, but it was ...
September 4, 2020
At least seven major wildfires were burning across California as early as 10:30 a.m. PDT on August 20th, 2020.
Researchers from the MISR Active Aerosol Plume-Height (AAP) Project, based out of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and the University of Maryland, used data from NASA's Terra satellite to map the properties and near-source dispersion of smoke plumes from California’s Milepost 21 wildfire that burned during August 2020.  Credit: MISR Active Aerosol Plume-Height (AAP) Project / K.J. Noyes, R. Kahn, J. Limbacher (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) At least seven major wildfires...
September 2, 2020
Captured by the ASTER instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite, this false-color map shows the burn area of the River and Carmel fires in Monterey County, California. Vegetation (including crops) is shown in red; the burn area (dark blue/gray) is in the c
Earth-observing instruments on satellites and aircraft are mapping the current fires, providing data products to agencies on the ground that are responding to the emergency. As California experiences one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, NASA is leveraging its resources to help. Scientists supporting the agency's Applied Sciences Disaster Program in the Earth Sciences Division are generating maps and other data products that track active fires and their smoke plumes while also identifying areas that may be...
May 8, 2020
NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite captured a series of images showing a black smoky plume spreading on April 25, 2020. Animation credit: NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory
As noted in a recent NASA Earth Observatory Image of the Day (“A Fiery Month in Zulia”) satellites have detected lots of fire activity in western Venezuela in recent weeks. Just as that story was released, a surprisingly large, dark smoke plume appeared in VIIRS and MODIS imagery. It bore little resemblance to the smaller, gray plumes that we had been watching. Forest and crops fires had caused the...
April 29, 2020
Active fires in Colombia and Venezuela detected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite on March 27th, 2020. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
For much of March and April 2020, satellites have detected signatures of heat and smoke from fires burning in northwestern Venezuela. Some of them burned in and near Ciénagas del Catatumbo National Park, a flat swampy area west of Lake Maracaibo known for its rainforests full of unusual plant and animal life.
February 19, 2020
Pyrocumulus clouds forming from the bushfires in Australia as seen by the JMA Himawari-8 satellite. Credit: Satellite data from JMA Himawari 8 processed by NOAA, CIRA
Researchers from the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program are using data from multiple satellites to study the formation of fire-induced clouds from the Australian bushfires, known as pyrocumulus clouds, and their potential impacts to Earth’s atmosphere and climate.  Data from the NASA-NOAA OMPS (above) and ESA TROPOMI instruments (below) show aerosols and carbon monoxide from the Australia fires spreading across the Tasman Sea. Credit: NASA On February 2nd, 2020 the Ozone...
February 3, 2020
Carbon monoide levels measured by the Aura MLS instrument from July 2019 - January 2020. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 
Carbon monoxide levels measured by the Aura MLS instrument from July 2019 - January 2020. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory  Bushfires have raged in Victoria and New South Wales since November 2019, yielding startling satellite images of smoke plumes streaming from southeastern Australia on a near daily basis. The images got even more eye-popping in January 2020 when...
January 29, 2020
Aura MLS carbon monoxide measurements from multiple altitudes on January 23rd, 2020, show the CO plume off the southern tip of South America at between 68 hPa (~19km) and 32 hPa (~23km), indicating that the plume is at least 4km thick. Credit: NASA Disast
NASA researchers are using data from the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) instrument onboard the Aura satellite to track atmospheric carbon monoxide (CO) levels from the fires in Australia. Carbon monoxide is one the main trace gases emitted from fires and can be used to help track the path of smoke plumes. Carbon monoxide can also be used to track smoke which is injected directly to high altitudes from explosive fires.   This animation of Aura Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) data shows carbon...
January 27, 2020
An alternate angle of the Aqua MODIS overpass, showing areas where pyrocumulonimbus storms were detected. Credit: NASA Disasters Program, Jean-Paul Vernier (NIA / NASA LaRC)
In December 2019 and January 2020 Australia has experienced widespread and severe fires causing extensive damage to the local ecosystem and communities and blanketing the surrounding regions in smoke. By studying data from multiple Earth-observing satellites and different types of sensors, NASA researchers can get a more comprehensive understanding of the extent of the fires and their impact to the surrounding communities. Photograph of smoke rising from fires on the east coast of Australia...
January 23, 2020
Screenshot of MISR from the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal. 
On December 16th, 2019 NASA’s Terra satellite flew over the eastern coast of Australia, capturing 3D data on the height of smoke plumes emanating from the fires with its Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument. Using data from this overpass, the NASA Disasters Program in collaboration with the Active Aerosol Plume-height (AAP) project has developed the first ever interactive 3D visualization of MISR fire plume-height data, which demonstrates the new 3D capabilities of the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal. ...
January 22, 2020
Figure 2: Data from the CALIPSO CALIOP lidar instrument shows the height, location and density of the smoke plume as it moved over New Zealand on January 1st, 2020. Credit: NASA Disasters Program, Jean-Paul Vernier (NASA LARC).
Figure 1: Suomi-NPP VIIRS true color imagery from December 31st, 2019 (background) is overlaid with VIIRS “hot spot” data (red areas) showing fire locations, and OMPS Aerosol Index (orange areas) showing the transport of the smoke plume over the Tasmanian sea. Credit: NASA Disasters Program, Jean-Paul Vernier (NIA / NASA LaRC). Created using NASA Worldview. On New Year Eve 2019 a series of massive thunderstorms generated by devastating fires across the states of New South Wales and...
January 14, 2020
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
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...
January 9, 2020
Satellite data from the OMPS-NM instrument is used to create an ultraviolet aerosol index to track the aerosols and smoke. Credits: NASA/Colin Seftor
Satellite data from the OMPS-NM instrument is used to create an ultraviolet aerosol index to track the aerosols and smoke. Credits: NASA/Colin Seftor A fleet of NASA satellites working together has been analyzing the aerosols and smoke from the massive fires burning in Australia. The fires in Australia are not just causing devastation locally. The unprecedented conditions that include searing heat combined with historic dryness, have led to the formation of an unusually large number...