Biomass Burning Fact Sheet

Space Measurements
burning of savanna grasslands in Mozambique
Burning of savanna grasslands in Mozambique in southern Africa as photographed by astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle. The fire plumes containing particulates and gases travel thousands of kilometers from their origin. Vegetation appears red in the false-color photograph.

The only way to accurately determine the exact location and extent of fires is to have a global perspective from space, making space-based measurements extremely important. Since no satellite has ever been dedicated to fire monitoring and measuring, most observations of fires from space are obtained from existing satellites developed for other purposes. Astronauts also photograph fires from the Space Shuttle (Fig. 2). Fire measurements come from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satel-lites and the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites. DMSP nighttime images provide information about the location and frequency of active fires, while AVHRR satellites can help determine the size of the area burned. Remote sensing of global fires indicates that Africa is the "fire center" of the planet with more biomass consumed by fire in Africa than anywhere else on Earth.

Africa is the fire center of our planet with more biomass burned on an annual basis than anywhere else. The upper image of the two above shows the global distribution of fires, represented by red orange, and yellow dots (lighter colors indicate more fires), while the lower of the two images shows the fire distribution in Africa. They are both based on nighttime measurements obtained by the DMSP Operational Linescan System.

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