Animation shows fires burning across Earth

NASA has released a fascinating animation, focused on a satellite view of Earth’s fires from July 2002 to July 2011. The animation shows that Africa has more burning than any other continent, with some 70 percent of the world’s fires happening there. It also unintentionally shows ice and snow covering Earth and then receding as the seasons pass, and – with the waxing and waning of fire and ice – it shows something we all know in theory but rarely get a chance to witness on such a grand scale. This is, change itself is a constant in our world.

I found both a narrated and non-narrated version of this video and can’t decide which I like best. Here’s the silent one. Watch for the red. Those are the fires.

NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites – both of which carry an instrument called MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, aka MODIS – obtained these images.

Some of these fires are managed by humans for agricultural clearing or other purposes, by the way, and some are surely human-caused accidents. Many are started by lightning or other natural causes.

If Africa has the most fires, here in North America fires are relatively rare. North America has just 2 percent of the world’s burned area each year. The fires that receive the most attention in the United States – the uncontrolled forest fires in the West – are less visible in this animation than the wave of agricultural fires prominent in the Southeast and along the Mississippi River Valley.

Some of the large wildfires that ravaged my home state of Texas in 2011 are also visible, although the animation stops before August 2011 when the most damaging Texas fire of this year – the Bastrop fire – raged.

Okay, enough reading? Here’s the narrated version.

Chris Justice of the University of Maryland, College Park, a scientist who leads NASA’s effort to use MODIS data to study the world’s fires, said:

What you see here is a very good representation of the satellite data scientists use to understand the global distribution of fires and to determine where and how fire distribution is responding to climate change and population growth.

Bottom line: A new NASA animation shows Earth’s fires from July 2002 to July 2011. Africa has more fires and more burning than any other continent, with some 70 percent of the world’s fires happening in Africa. North America, by contrast, has only 2 percent of the world’s fires.

NASA press release on the visual tour of Earth’s fires

Stewardship by fire in South African park restores grassland

Human influence takes the wild out of some wildfires

Texas wildfires still burning as winds die down

See how fast wildfires spread – great video

October 24, 2011

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Deborah Byrd

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