Video: World on Fire

Carolyn is a staff writer for Science and is the editor of the In Brief section.

Credit: NASA

Individual, local wildfires tend to stand out in the news: California's deadly 2009 Station Fire, fires in Russia sparked by a 2010 summer heat wave, and blazes raging across Texas since November 2010. But at any given time, thousands more wildfires are burning around the world—some wild and deadly, some intentional and controlled for land clearing. Now, scientists using data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites have pieced together a decade-long global tour of the world's fires, from waves of grassland fire sweeping across Africa, "the fire continent," to agricultural fires in Asia and to catastrophic wildfires in the western United States. Since Terra launched in 1999 and Aqua in 2002, the MODIS instruments have mapped more than 40 million actively burning fires around the world. This long-term record, MODIS scientists say, is particularly important for understanding how fires respond to climate change and changing human populations.

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