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Earth from Orbit: Fires Rage Across the Globe

August 12, 2021
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As wildfires continue to rage in North America, the Dixie Fire became the second largest fire in California history. The fire has burned more than half a million acres, filling the air as far as Denver and Salt Lake City with smoke. And that’s just one of 108 large fires that have burned more than 2.4 million acres in 15 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.  

Meanwhile, by August 6, 2021, thick smoke from the hundreds of wildfires burning in Siberia had reached parts of Mongolia, western Greenland, and, for the first time in recorded history—the North Pole

Hundreds of fires are also raging in Greece, Italy, Algeria, and Turkey among one of the worst heat waves in decades. Tens of thousands of people in Greece and Turkey have been forced to flee the flames and thick smoke blankets the region. 

NOAA’s GOES-17 satellite is monitoring the fires burning in the Western U.S. in real-time, detecting their heat signatures and pinpointing where and how intense each fire hot spot is. The satellite also tracks the smoke plumes emanating from the fires. 

The VIIRS instrument on the Joint Polar Satellite System’s NOAA-20 and Suomi NPP satellites play an important role in detecting and tracking wildfires, especially in remote regions like Siberia’s Sakha Republic. At 375 meters per pixel, the high spatial resolution from VIIRS allows the instrument to detect both large and smaller-lower temperature fires. VIIRS also provides nighttime fire detection capabilities through its Day-Night Band, which can measure low-intensity visible light emitted by small and fledgling fires.

And the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR)-Smoke model, which became operational early this year, produces forecasts of both surface and high-altitude smoke up to 48 hours into the future. The product, which is used by fire crews, first responders and air traffic controllers, measures the amount of heat released by a fire in megawatts. It also incorporates observations of wind speed, rain, and atmospheric temperatures, and combines that with vegetation maps to incorporate what’s burning. All of these measurements are mapped to a three-dimensional grid that extends nearly 12.5 miles into the atmosphere, producing detailed updates of the amount of smoke produced, the plume height and the direction the smoke is expected to move. 

NOAA satellites and those from our partners across the globe are providing critical data for detecting and tracking the hundreds of fires that are burning worldwide as well as monitoring reduced visibility and air quality from the smoke produced by the blazes. These observations aid forecasters, decision-makers, and first responders.