Aqua Measures Australia’s Burn Scars From Orbit

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
January 23, 2020
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Aqua Measures Australia’s Burn Scars From Orbit
Fire scars in southeastern Australia

NASA’s Aqua satellite and its MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) captured this image of southeastern Australia and the burn scars left behind from the violent and vicious bushfires that raged throughout the area and left destruction in their wake.
The Worldview app from NASA’s EOSDIS provides the capability to interactively browse over 900 global, full-resolution satellite imagery layers and then download the underlying data. Many of the imagery layers are updated daily and are available within three hours of observation – essentially showing the entire Earth as it looks “right now”. This supports time-critical application areas such as wildfire management, air quality measurements, and flood monitoring.

This image was captured on Jan. 22, 2020 and the measurement tool that is available within the Worldview application allows users to measure distances. In this case, the distances measured were those of the burn scars left behind in southeastern Australia. The measurement ranged from 46 miles (74 km) all the way up 105 miles (169 km) of scarred land. Just looking at the image is devastating enough, but when the measurement tool is used, it underlines the absolute destruction caused by the bushfires that took hold in 2019 and into 2020.

Colors have been enhanced used reflectance bands on the satellite that provide more vivid colors in order to “see” the differences between the land and the burn scars. This combination is most useful for distinguishing burn scars from naturally low vegetation or bare soil and enhancing floods. From the Worldview information section: “Burned areas or fire-affected areas are characterized by deposits of charcoal and ash, removal of vegetation and/or the alteration of vegetation structure. When bare soil becomes exposed, the brightness in Band 1 may increase, but that may be offset by the presence of black carbon residue; the near infrared (Band 2) will become darker, and Band 7 becomes more reflective. When assigned to red in the image, Band 7 will show burn scars as deep or bright red, depending on the type of vegetation burned, the amount of residue, or the completeness of the burn.”

NASA’s satellite instruments are often the first to detect wildfires burning in remote regions, and the locations of new fires are sent directly to land managers worldwide within hours of the satellite overpass. Together, NASA instruments detect actively burning fires, track the transport of smoke from fires, provide information for fire management, and map the extent of changes to ecosystems, based on the extent and severity of burn scars. NASA has a fleet of Earth-observing instruments, many of which contribute to our understanding of fire in the Earth system. Satellites in orbit around the poles provide observations of the entire planet several times per day, whereas satellites in a geostationary orbit provide coarse-resolution imagery of fires, smoke and clouds every five to 15 minutes.

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Image Courtesy: NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). Caption: Lynn Jenner with information from Worldview. A link that goes directly to the image is:

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