Twelve Years of Fires

July 20th, 2012 by Michon Scott

Besides acquiring photo-like images of the surface of Earth, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites can detect the anomalously high temperatures associated with actively burning fires. Using this “hotspot” data, John Nelson of IDV Solutions made a map of major fires in the contiguous 48 United States from 2001 through early July 2012.

Image courtesy John Nelson, IDV Solutions.

This map shows not just the locations, but also the intensity of major fires. Nelson has scaled the fires by “units of the typical American nuclear power plant’s summertime capacity.” The most intense fires are yellow, and less intense fires appear in shades of magenta and purple. Graphs in the lower left corner show the proportion of fires by year and by month.

Jessica McCarty, who studies U.S. fire patterns at Michigan Tech Research Institute, observes that the most intense blazes are usually wildfires in forested or peatland areas. Prescribed fires to benefit agriculture and ranching are generally less intense.

A high-resolution version of this image is available here.

9 Responses to “Twelve Years of Fires”

  1. ac says:

    Nice work!
    any chance you will put one together for Canada?

  2. Cynthia Carlson says:

    Wow, really interesting. Is this vegetation/forest fires only or a combination of all sorts of fires?

  3. A.A. Hoffmann says:

    Have you used both Aqua and Terra for this analysis?
    If so how have you taken into account that Aqua was only launched mid 2002? I would assume this impacts the year 2001 and 2002 in particular the intensity as Terra depicts morning fires hence usually less intense fire.
    if not skip the question

  4. M. Scott says:

    John Nelson, the maker of this image, has answered a couple user questions.

    Cynthia Carlson: The map includes all fires.

    A.A. Hoffmann: Good point about Terra v. Aqua launch and morning v. afternoon fires. John Nelson says, “If the nature of the question is about sensitivity and inclusion of smaller fires, which it looks like, this map only retains 100+MW fires so the minor fires are excluded over the whole period.”

  5. Matheus Leite says:

    I want to know whow could I study fisic in USA if I am a brasilian? because We doesn’t have goods techer of fisic here, and I love fisic

  6. Matt Jones says:

    @ John Nelson. Fantastic Image! Goes to show how creative graphics can really emphasize the point.
    Question: What are the units/values of the y-axis on the bar graphs. # of fires? cumulative wattage?
    Thanks, Matt

    • John Nelson says:

      Hi Matt, and thanks!
      The time series charts are cumulative distinct fire counts per year (or season). The overall height shows the relative number of fire events, and within each bar the count proportionality of categorical wattage. Though the notion of a cumulative wattage time series chart is interesting!

  7. kyle bradhaw says:

    id like to find most recent fire maps to this date if not is there a diff. from then till now?