Latest News and Updates

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, taken by ISS astronauts on January 4th, 2020. Credit: NASA Crew Earth Observations (CEO) On January, 4th 2020, astronauts flying 17,500 miles per hour onboard the International Space Station (ISS), captured several photographs of smoke plumes from fires in New South Wales and Victoria, spreading off the east coast of Australia into the Tasman Sea. On the ground, uncontrolled fires were exacerbated by extremely dangerous wind conditions and temperatures reaching record highs of 45⁰ Celsius (113⁰F). Reporters in Mallacoota, Victoria witnessed smoke so thick that they described it as being “like midnight at 3.30 in the afternoon.”  


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 PortalView Fullscreen on the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal The above interactive map allows you to view and explore this MISR smoke plume data in 3D. You can click on the images at the bottom to view the data from several pre-selected angles. These data show that in some areas the smoke plumes reached heights of more than 4 kilometers above the surface at the time of this satellite overpass. The plume heights are represented as spheres with progressively lighter colors for higher elevation, and the height has been visually exaggerated by 20x to better see the details in the data. The same data is also shown on the ground in 2D, with darker blues and purples indicating lower altitude plumes and lighter greens and yellows indicating higher altitudes. The color bar to the right shows the derived plume heights corresponding to the colors in the 2D data. In addition, “hot spot” data from Terra’s MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument is shown as red spheres on the ground, indicating areas of active fires. The base layer of natural-color imagery is from MISR's nadir-viewing camera.


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 Victoria in Australia produced a gigantic smoke layer of 1.75 million square kilometers across the Tasmanian Sea, as observed by the VIIRS and OMPS instruments onboard the NOAA/NASA Suomi-NPP satellite (figure 1). 


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 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.


January 9, 2020
Credits: NASA Langley/Roman Kowch
The devastating fires in southeastern Australia have renewed focus on the dangers that extreme drought and heat can pose to society. Last week, fires erupted near populated areas in Victoria and New South Wales with destructive effects, resulting in one of Australia’s largest evacuations. NASA’s CALIPSO satellite provided data for a new animation that showed the aerosols generated from the smoke has spread high into the atmosphere and far to the east over the Pacific Ocean.


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 of pyrocumulonimbus (pyrCbs) events. PyroCbs are essentially fire-induced thunderstorms. They are triggered by the uplift of ash, smoke, and burning material via super-heated updrafts. As these materials cool, clouds are formed that behave like traditional thunderstorms but without the accompanying precipitation. PyroCb events provide a pathway for smoke to reach the stratosphere more than 10 miles (16 km) in altitude. Once in the stratosphere, the smoke can travel thousands of miles from its source, affecting atmospheric conditions globally. The effects of those events -- whether the smoke provides a net atmospheric cooling or warming, what happens to underlying clouds, etc.) -- is currently the subject of intense study. NASA is tracking the movement of smoke from the Australian fires lofted, via pyroCbs events, more than 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) high. The smoke is having a dramatic impact on New Zealand, causing severe air quality issues across the county and visibly darkening mountaintop snow.


January 15, 2020
Preliminary map of co-landslides caused by the Mw6.4 earthquake. The image shows the location of 120 landslides with the USGS Peak Ground Acceleration Contours that shows the areas of greatest shaking (available here).
The NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program has activated a “Tier 1” response to the earthquakes in Puerto Rico, which entails collecting information and coordinating with stakeholders and university partners. The program is participating in inter-agency calls with federal agencies leading the response effort including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, to provide NASA Earth-observing data in support of the response and recovery for this disaster.


January 13, 2020
This map shows ground changes, or displacement, on the eastern two-thirds of Puerto Rico following a 6.4-magnitude earthquake. The ground shifted up to 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) in a downward and slightly west direction. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech, ESA, U
NASA scientists are using satellite data to help federal and local agencies identify areas with potential damage. Earthquakes cause permanent changes to the ground surface. By comparing interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) data acquired on Jan. 9, 2020, with data acquired on Dec. 28, 2019, from the Copernicus Sentinel-1A satellite, the scientists were able to map where, how much and in what direction those changes occurred.


January 9, 2020
NASA’s Terra satellite captured this view of the region, showing a complex array of dust storms, enhanced thanks to the rich spectral information of MODIS.
In part supported by NASA’s Disasters Program, the system known as LANCE — short for Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (Earth Observing System) — collates satellite data to deliver imagery of intense disturbances across the globe: usually less than three hours after initial observations. As it enters its second decade of operation, LANCE provides subscribers free and open access to more than 130 near real-time data products and imagery from 12 satellite instruments.


January 10, 2020
NASA Disasters Program Manager David Green giving a talk on the NASA Hyperwall at AGU 2019. Credit: Jacob Reed (NASA GSFC)
Members of the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program will be attending the American Meteorological Society 2020 Annual Meeting this year in Boston, MA to give talks and teach people about the program and the services it provides.