Fires in the United States

Fires in California

25 November 2008

Several days after it started, the Freeway Fire left a sprawling burn scar on the California landscape. The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image on 22 November 2008. In this false-color image, red indicates vegetation, tan indicates bare ground, gray-blue indicates buildings and paved surfaces, and dark blue indicates water. The Freeway Fire burn scar, stretching across the middle of the image, assumes a charcoal color. Along its southwestern margin, the burn scar intrudes into the curving suburban streets of Yorba Linda and Brea.


22 November 2008


Smoke from the recent outbreak of fires in Southern California can clearly be seen from NASA satellites. The Left (below), photo-like image was taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite on 16 November 2008, and it shows the smoke drifting to the southwest from the Los Angeles basin over the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The lower image shows measurements of aerosols—tiny particles within smoke—as observed by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) onboard NASA’s Aura satellite, overlaid on top of the MODIS image.

In the right image (below), aerosol concentrations are represented by an aerosol index, with the highest concentrations in pink, and the lowest in dark blue. The aerosol index is calculated based on the way the tiny particles absorb and scatter light. Specifically, the index is a measurement of the difference between the amount of ultraviolet light the smoke-filled atmosphere scatters back to the satellite compared to the amount of ultraviolet light that the atmosphere would scatter back if it were totally clear. The difference between these two measurements can effectively detect smoke that would otherwise be invisible in photo-like imagery.

acquired 16 November 2008

acquired 16 November 2008


In the MODIS image, the smoke disappears when it moves over the bright surface of the low-level marine stratocumulus clouds. The OMI aerosol index measurement reveals, however, that smoke is present over the clouds. Such ultraviolet measurements from instruments like OMI are useful to scientists working to understand how aerosols affect clouds.

Recent media reports on fires in California:

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