More on the Western U.S. Wildfires

NASA Earth Observatory

NASA Earth Observatory has had several stories on the western U.S. wildfires, gathered here. This story summarizes the situation; satellite images of the smoke generated by the fires can be seen here, here and here.

Marena Brinkhurst of Mapbox has a comprehensive list of open data sources relating to the wildfires, smoke, and air quality.

Mark Altaweel at GIS Lounge looks at how GIS is being used to map wildfires, smoke and air pollution.

Previously: California Wildfires, 2020 Edition.

Tracking Amazon Fires

Last year saw an uptick in fire activity in the Amazon basin. This year a new tool has been released that aims to help classify the fires being observed. The Amazon Dashboard classifies each fire as a deforestation fire, a savanna fire, a small clearing and agricultural fire, or an understory forest fire, and tracks whether the fire is in a protected or indigenous territory. NASA Earth Observatory:

The fire analysis tool is already bringing new clarity and insight to the 2020 fire season. In July, Brazil announced a 120-day ban on fires in the Amazon rainforest; it was presented as an effort to limit ecological damage from fires this year. However, the NASA-led fire analysis indicates that there has been a proliferation of fires in key deforestation hotspots in the southern Amazon states of Pará, Mato Grosso, and Amazonas.

Previously: Mapping the Amazon Fires.

California Wildfires, 2020 Edition


Wildfire status tracking. The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services posts a daily map showing the status of active wildfires in the state. It’s basically a one-page PDF you can print and hand out: decidedly old school and not remotely interactive. The New York Times has a series of maps tracking the various wildfire complexes. See also the Los Angeles Times interactive wildfires map, the address of which will probably work next year too. [Maps Mania/Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs]

Forecasting. NOAA’s High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) atmospheric model includes an experimental smoke forecast. It and other smoke and fire models are available as hourly static images (see above) or via this interactive map. [Maps Mania/UWCIMSS]

Google is adding wildfire boundaries to Search and Maps: it will provide warnings to nearby users and have an impact on driving directions. [Engadget/TechCrunch/The Verge]

Australia’s Bushfires and Misleading Maps

Whenever there’s a major news event, there will be an outbreak of fake, misattributed or misleading images that purport to be about that event. That goes for maps as well.

Take the serious situation with Australia’s bushfires at the moment. Social media is jammed with maps showing practically the whole damn continent on fire, or superimposed on another continent to let people there know just how big Australia is (and also on fire). It’s a profoundly serious situation, and as NASA’s Joshua Stevens points out, it’s possible to present an accurate map that shows its seriousness without resorting to hyperbole.

The trouble is, social media thrives on hyperbole, because it thrives on “engagement”—which means outrage and anger and, as Joshua Emmons notes, as we get inured to a certain level of outrage, even more outrage is needed just to get noticed.

Which brings me to this thing, which is showing up all over the social web:

Anthony Hearsey, Creative Imaging.

Continue reading “Australia’s Bushfires and Misleading Maps”

Mapping the Amazon Fires

Let’s start with the current situation map from Brazil’s own space agency, the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espacias (INPE), which I’m surprised is still online. In July Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, accused the widely respected agency of lying about the scale of deforestation in the Amazon; INPE’s chief, Ricardo Galvão, was forced out earlier this month after defending the agency. After that, INPE said that fires were up 84 percent over the same period last year. (The ESA, for its part, tracked nearly four times as many fires in August as they did last year.)

Other raw data sources include the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), fire activity data from which can be viewed here; and MODIS data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. For a live feed of MODIS data on the Amazon fires, see the MODIS Wildfire Dashboard.


Meanwhile, NASA’s Earth Observatory posted MODIS imagery of several Amazon fires, and had this curious statement that seemed to minimize the scale of the problem: “As of August 16, 2019, an analysis of NASA satellite data indicated that total fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average in comparison to the past 15 years. […] Though activity appears to be above average in the states of Amazonas and Rondônia, it has so far appeared below average in Mato Grosso and Pará, according to estimates from the Global Fire Emissions Database, a research project that compiles and analyzes NASA data.”

A subsequent NASA Earth Observatory post seems to contradict the one I mentioned earlier, pointing to “a noticeable increase in large, intense, and persistent fires burning along major roads in the central Brazilian Amazon” which “are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought” and noted fire detections “higher across the Brazilian Amazon” since 2010.

Contextualizing the amount of fires seems to be a recurring theme in the reporting: the number of fires are up sharply over last year, but close to the average when taking a longer view. It’s helped a lot of bad and insincere actors make it harder to get to the heart of what’s going on over there. They can’t, after all, deny the satellite imagery or the remote sensing: we can see the fires. We can detect the emissions of smoke, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide (1, 2, 3). We can map them. And those maps can help us understand what’s going on.

On the NGO front, InfoAmazonia has produced the above map comparing fires over the last 24 hours with historical fire data. (They have other maps on this subject as well.)

Note, too, the reference above to burning along major roads. Tim Wallace crunches MODIS date from 2012 onward and teases out some patterns in the fires.

The New York Times

And the New York Times, where Tim used to work, has a map correlating the position of the current Amazon fires along the edges of past deforestation. The Times also has maps showing maps on a month-by-month basis and comparing August 2019 with the August average over the past decade.

[CityLab, Maps Mania]

Mapping Disasters in America

The Washington Post maps disasters in the United States, with a page that shows maps of flood warnings, tornadoes and hurricanes, extreme heat and cold (see above), wildfires, lightning, and earthquakes and volcanoes. In the wake of a natural disaster there’s usually someone suggesting that the victims are at fault for living in a disaster zone. The WaPost’s maps have an answer to that: “It turns out there is nowhere in the United States that is particularly insulated from everything.”

California Wildfire Roundup

San Francisco Chronicle (screenshot)

The San Francisco Chronicle’s 2018 California Fire Tracker is an interactive map of ongoing and contained wildfires—notably, at this moment, the Camp and Woolsey fires. It includes fire perimeter and air quality data. (Note: it’s glitchy on desktop Safari.)

Two Esri maps: a general wildfire map and a map of smoke from wildfires [Maps Mania]. Add to that a map of field damage reports in the area hit by the Camp Fire [Maps Mania].


The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has produced a map of the damage from the Camp Fire based on satellite radar images. NASA Earth Observatory has maps and animations showing the impact of the Camp Fire on air quality and satellite images of the Woolsey Fire burn scar.


The New York Times has a map tracking air quality in California. Smoke from the fires has reached the east coast: an outcome predicted by atmospheric models (see above map).

This interactive map from NBC News that superimposes the Camp Fire on any location to help people outside California get a sense of how big these fires are. [Maps Mania]

Carbon Monoxide from the California Wildfires

Map: carbon monoxide from the California wildfires

Carbon monoxide released into the atmosphere by the California wildfires is drifting across North America in concentrations sufficient to turn up on the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. A series of maps showing CO concentrations in the United States between 30 July and 7 August, using AIRS data, have been combined into the animation above.

Previously: Mapping the Northern California Wildfires.

Mapping the British Columbia Wildfires

British Columbia isn’t having a very good year either, forest fire wise. For maps of the wildfires burning in the province, see the B.C. Wildfire Service’s interactive map, which shows active wildfires, fire perimeters, and evacuation areas. Evacuation maps are frequently tweeted by Emergency Info BC. Data journalist Tara Carman has posted maps of wildfires and evacuation zones, but they haven’t been updated in a couple of weeks and are now out of date, I fear.

Previously: Mapping the Northern California Wildfires.

Mapping the Northern California Wildfires

Washington Post (screenshot)

The Washington Post maps the largest of the wildfires burning in northern California: the Carr Fire threatening the city of Redding and surrounding communities. The Redding Record Searchlight has drone footage of the destruction wreaked by the Carr Fire in Shasta County. NASA has natural and false-colour imagery (Earth Observatory, Visible Earth) of the Carr Fire, as well as the Ranch and River Fires to the south, the so-called Mendocino Complex. See the Mercury News’s fire map of the Mendocino Complex, whose two fires’ combined acreage is now larger than the Carr Fire. Meanwhile, German astronaut Alexander Gerst observed the California wildfires from the International Space Station. [San Francisco Chronicle]

U.S. Wildfire Causes, 1980-2016

Jill Hubley has mapped the causes of wildfires in the United States from 1980 to 2016, based on Federal Wildland Fire Occurrence Data. The map toggles between main causes (human and natural) and specific cause; there’s also a chart ranking the causes.

The highest and lowest ranked causes are highlighted when the chart loads. These represent the cumulative ranking across all years. Lightning, a natural cause, often floats to the top, but that’s only because on the human side, the vote is split between more than twenty options. Lightning doesn’t predominate in all states, though. In Alabama, the number one cause is pyromania. In Indiana, it’s brakeshoes. In Minnesota, it’s field burning. There are a couple of overall trends, too. Smoking is going down as a cause, and powerlines are going up.

[CityLab/Benjamin Hennig]