Topic 4d - Monitoring biomass burning and validating wildfires

Fires and biomass burning can be identified from space in real time. The ‘D-Fire’ sub project in the Copernicus programme provides global emissions from biomass burning to the public and MACC (Monitoring Atmospheric Composition & Climate) services using real time and retrospectively from satellite-based observations of open fires.

Smoke plumes from large wildfires are often visible from space in the visible part of the optical domain, but judging the intensity of a given fire requires a wider range of measurements, such as the temperature of the fire (from the thermal part of the spectrum, at much longer wavelengths than the optical domain, around 10-12 microns), or the area and density of vegetation that is being burnt. Fires convert fuel (vegetation biomass) into atmospheric gases, particularly CO and CO2 as well as other gases and soot particulates. So measuring the loss of canopy can tell us about the release of these gases into the atmosphere, with the potential damage that can do .

In summer 2017, Canadian wildfire smoke plumes were detected in the Arctic and Greenland, by the VIIRS instrument aboard Suomi NPP. Satellite observations are important to use for monitoring the evolution and impact of wildfires like this one.

Featured Educators

  • Prof. Martin Wooster

Don’t forget you can download the video, transcript and take any quizzes available with the links on the right.

Interactive Apps

Satellite tracking app - Topic 4d

The satellites featured in this topic are as follows:

Suomi NPP

You can also use the drop-down menu in the app to view these satellites.


Global Wildfires

Map of global wildfires in 2017

Biomass burning in India

Biomass burning in India on 8th November 2017, seen by GOME-2 measuring
the Absorbing Aerosol Index (AAI). AAI indicates the presence of elevated absorbing aerosols in the Earth’s atmosphere. Biomass burning and desert dust are the aerosols types that are mostly seen in the AAI.

Fires in Kineta, Greece

This image is from Sentinel-2 and shows the high smoke column rising from the fire on 23 July 2018.

Canada daily fire emissions

Graph showing mean daily fire emission 2003-2016 in grey and daily fire emission 2017 in red.

Wildfire smoke spreading across the US and Canada

Smoke from wildfires in the western United States and Canada on August 2, 2017, imaged by the VIIRS instrument on Suomi NPP. Actively burning areas, detected by VIIRS thermal bands, are outlined in red.

Forecasted total column SO2 from Bardarbunga Stratavolcano

CAMS forecasts from the OMI instrument, captured the transport of the plume of volcanic SO2, from Bardarbunga Stratavolcano in Iceland, southward, while spreading over the continent on 21 and 22 September 2014. The plume stretched all the way from Finland through Poland, Germany and France to southern England. On the right is a parallel forecast, for which no OMI data were used, this did not show any elevated SO2 values, confirming that “normal” emissions of SO2 (including shipping and industrial
activities) could not explain the observed situation.