Satellite remote sensing of active fires: History and current status, applications and future requirements





Citation of Original Publication

Wooster, Martin J. et al. "Satellite remote sensing of active fires: History and current status, applications and future requirements." Remote Sensing of Environment 267 (19 October 2021).


This work was written as part of one of the author's official duties as an Employee of the United States Government and is therefore a work of the United States Government. In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 105, no copyright protection is available for such works under U.S. Law.
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Landscape fire is a widespread, somewhat unpredictable phenomena that plays an important part in Earth's biogeochemical cycling. In many biomes worldwide fire also provides multiple ecological benefits, but in certain circumstances can also pose a risk to life and infrastructure, lead to net increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, and to degradation in air quality and consequently human health. Accurate, timely and frequently updated information on landscape fire activity is essential to improve our understanding of the drivers and impacts of this form of biomass burning, as well as to aid fire management. This information can only be provided using satellite Earth Observation (EO) approaches, and remote sensing of active fire is one of the key techniques used. This form of EO is based on detecting the signature of the (mostly infrared) electromagnetic radiation emitted as biomass burns. Since the early 1980's, active fire (AF) remote sensing conducted using low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites has been deployed in certain regions of the world to map the location and timing of landscape fire occurrence, and from the early 2000's global-scale information updated multiple times per day has been easily available to all. Geostationary (GEO) satellites provide even higher frequency AF information, more than 100 times per day in some cases, and both LEO- and GEO-derived AF products now often include estimates of a fires characteristics, such as its fire radiative power (FRP) output, in addition to the fires detection. AF data provide information relevant to fire activity ongoing when the EO data were collected, and this can be delivered with very low latency times to support applications such as air quality forecasting. Here we summarize the history of achievements in the field of active fire remote sensing, review the physical basis of the approaches used, the nature of the AF detection and characterization techniques deployed, and highlight some of the key current capabilities and applications. Finally, we list some important developments we believe deserve focus in future years.