For more than a decade, instruments on Terra and Aqua, two of NASA’s flagship Earth-observing satellites, have scanned the surface of our planet for fires. An instrument on both satellites, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), has revolutionized what scientists know about fire’s role in land cover change, ecosystem processes, and the global carbon cycle. Researchers are able to map characteristics of the global distribution of fires in remarkable detail.

Circling the globe every 99 minutes, the two MODIS sensors provide four daily observations of active fires that are relayed to forest managers worldwide. The coordinates of active fires detected by MODIS are sent by text message, often within an hour after the satellite overpass, so agencies responsible for land management can assess ongoing fire activity and respond accordingly.

The recently launched NASA /NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi-NPP) and its Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) will continue the measurements from MODIS. The satellite provides two additional daily observations.

The newest generation of climate models project drier conditions that likely will cause increased fire activity across the United States in coming decades. These changes are likely to come in a number of different forms, including longer fire seasons, larger areas at risk of wildfire, and an increase in the frequency of extreme events.

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