Forest Fire

The Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite captured this image of smoke from wildfires in the US state of California on 9 October 2017. Image: 	contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.


Wildfire, also called forest, bush or vegetation fire, can be described as any uncontrolled and non-prescribed combustion or burning of plants in a natural setting such as a forest, grassland, brush land or tundra, which consumes the natural fuels and spreads based on environmental conditions (e.g., wind, topography). Wildfire can be incited by human actions, such as land clearing, extreme drought or in rare cases by lightning (IRDR).

There are three conditions that need to be present in order for a wildfire to burn: fuel, oxygen, and a heat source. Fuel is any flammable material surrounding a fire, including trees, grasses, brush, even homes. The greater an area's fuel load, the more intense the fire. Air supplies the oxygen a fire needs to burn. Heat sources help spark the wildfire and bring fuel to temperatures hot enough to ignite. Lightning, burning campfires or cigarettes, hot winds, and even the sun can all provide sufficient heat to spark a wildfire (National Geographic).

Facts and figures

The Global Wildland Fire Network Bulletin published by the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) presents the most recent data regarding consequences of wildfire: in 2017, 36 fires in protected areas were recorded in 19 countries burning more than 196000 hectares worldwide.

Wildfire plays a mixed role for ecology and economy since some ecosystems depend on natural fires to maintaining their dynamics, biodiversity and productivity. However, every year, wildfires burn millions of hectares of forest woodlands and other vegetation, causing the loss of many human and animal lives and an immense economic damage, both in terms of resources destroyed and the costs of suppression. There are also impacts on society and the environment, such as damage to human health from smoke, loss of biological diversity, release of  greenhouse gases, damage to recreational values and infrastructure (FAO).

Most fires are caused by people. The list of human motivations include land clearing and other agricultural activities, maintenance of grasslands for livestock management, extraction of non-wood forest products, industrial development, resettlement, hunting, negligence and arson. Only in very remote areas of Canada and the Russian Federation lightning is a major cause of fires (FAO).

There are three basic types of wildfires:

  • Crown fires burn trees up their entire length to the top. These are the most intense and dangerous wildland fires.
  • Surface fires burn only surface litter and duff. These are the easiest fires to put out and cause the least damage to the forest.
  • Ground fires (sometimes called underground or subsurface fires) occur in deep accumulations of humus, peat and similar dead vegetation that become dry enough to burn. These fires move very slowly, but can become difficult to fully put out, or suppress (Government of Canada).

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SAM Satellite

Landsat 5 was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on March 1, 1984, and like Landsat 4, carried the Multispectral Scanner (MSS) and the Thematic Mapper (TM) instruments. Landsat 5 delivered Earth imaging data nearly 29 years - and set a Guinness World Record For 'Longest Operating Earth Observation Satellite', before being decommissioned on June 5, 2013.
The Landsat 5 satellite orbited the the Earth in a sun-synchronous, near-polar orbit, at an altitude of 705 km (438 mi), inclined at 98.2 degrees, and circled the Earth every 99 minutes.  The satellite had a 16-day repeat cycle with an equatorial crossing time: 9:45 a.m. +/- 15 minutes.  Landsat 5 data were acquired on the Worldwide Reference System-2 (WRS-2) path/row system, with swath overlap (or sidelap) varying from 7 percent at the Equator to a maximum of approximately 85 percent at extreme latitudes. 
Landsat 5 long outlived its original three-year design life. Developed by NASA and launched in... read more

Launch date:

Landsat 4 was launched on July 16, 1982. The Landsat 4 spacecraft was significantly different than that of the previous Landsats, and Landsat 4 did not carry the RBV instrument.
In addition to the Multispectral Scanner System (MSS) instrument, Landsat 4 (and Landsat 5) carried a sensor with improved spectral and spatial resolution, i.e., the new satellites could see a wider (and more scientifically-tailored) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and could see the ground in greater detail. This new instrument was known as the Thematic Mapper (TM).
Landsat 4 was kept in orbit for housekeeping telemetry command and tracking data (which it downlinked via a separate data path, the S-band) until it was decommissioned in 2001.
While Landsat 4 was built and launched by NASA, NOAA initially oversaw the operations of the satellite. Landsat 4 operations were contracted out to the Earth Observation Satellite Company (EOSAT) corporation in 1984.
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Launch date:

Landsat 3 was launched on March 5, 1978, three years after Landsat 2.
The Landsat program’s technical and scientific success together with political and economic pressures lead to the decision to commercialize an operational Landsat. To this end, responsibility was slated to shift from NASA (a research and development agency) to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agency charged with operating the weather satellites. This was done via Presidential Directive/NSC-54 signed on Nov. 16, 1979 which assigned NOAA “management responsibility for civil operational land remote sensing activites.” (However, operational management was not transfered from NASA to NOAA until 1983).
Landsat 3 carried the same sensors as its predecessor: the Return Beam Vidicon (RBV) and the Multispectral Scanner (MSS). The RBV instrument on-board Landsat 3 had an improved 38 m ground... read more

Launch date:

Landsat 2 was launched into space onboard a Delta 2910 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California on January 22, 1975, two and a half years after Landsat 1. Originally named ERTS-B (Earth Resource Technology Satellite B), the spacecraft was renamed Landsat 2 prior to launch. The second Landsat was still considered an experimental project and was operated by NASA.
Landsat 2 carried the same sensors as its predecessor: the Return Beam Vidicon (RBV) and the Multispectral Scanner System (MSS).
On February 25, 1982 after seven years of service, Landsat 2 was removed from operations due to yaw control problems; it was offically decommissioned on July 27, 1983.

Return Beam Vidicon (RBV)
Multispectral Scanner (MSS)

Launch date:

Landsat 1 was launched on July 23, 1972; at that time the satellite was known as the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS). It was the first Earth-observing satellite to be launched with the express intent to study and monitor our planet’s landmasses. To perform the monitoring, Landsat 1 carried two instruments: a camera system built by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) called the Return Beam Vidicon (RBV), and the Multispectral Scanner (MSS) built by the Hughes Aircraft Company. The RBV was supposed to be the prime instrument, but the MSS data were found to be superior. In addition, the RBV instrument was the source of an electrical transient that caused the satellite to briefly lose altitude control, according to the Landsat 1 Program Manager, Stan Weiland.
To help understand the data and to explore the potential applications of this new technology, NASA oversaw 300 private research investigators. Nearly one third of these were international scientists. These... read more

Launch date:

Data Source


Official Logo of the Algerian Space Agency. Image: ASAL.

In recent years, the frequency and severity of natural hazards has increased dramatically. This development has escalated the risk of disasters and their devastating impact on the environment and communities around the world. Earth observation (EO) data has the potential to mitigate the risks of disasters and support all phases of the disaster management cycle. The international community has created various mechanisms to facilitate the use of EO data for disaster management, such as the International Charter Space and Major Disasters. The Algerian Space Agency (ASAL) has provided EO data to the International Charter for almost two decades.

The International Charter refers to a consortium of space agencies, national and regional disaster monitoring organizations that utilize EO data for... read more

Publishing date: 13/04/2021
Regional Support Offices mentioned:
Fires in the Amazon as seen from Space. Image: ESA/NASA–L. Parmitano.

Increasing in frequency and severity, wildfires have had a devastating impact in several areas around the world in recent years. The effects of wildfires pose a particular risk to the environment and communities in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region. In order to mitigate the effects of wildfires and support wildfire risk management in the region, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission (EC) recently launched country profiles under the Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS).

A wildfire refers to “an unplanned, unwanted wild land fire”. Wildfires are both caused by man-made activity (slash/burn land clearing) and natural events (lightning or extreme drought). The likelihood of a wildfire increases dramatically in the dry season and during high... read more

Publishing date: 30/03/2021


UN Sustainable Development Goals. Image: European Commission.

EUROGEO 2021, the annual meeting and conference of the European Association of Geography will be held online on 22 and 23 April 2020. These two days will be dedicated to the contribution that the community of geographers can bring to global challenges by sharing knowledge about the important United Nations aim – the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In 2015, the United Nations approved these objectives, covering all possible social, economic and natural aspects, both in a global and local space. Most of them are related to geography and seek to promote a multidimensional model of development that can guarantee sustainability. The  identified priority is zero hunger, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, with a conciliatory... read more

Forest Fires in Russia. Image: ESA.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is organising an Advanced Training Course on Land Remote Sensing with the focus on Earth Observation and Artificial Intelligence for Forestry. This course is dedicated to training the next generation of Earth Observation (EO) scientists and experts working in forestry domain to exploit data from EO missions (e.g. the Copernicus Sentinels) and use Artificial Intelligence (AI) for science and applications development. The course is part of ESA’s EO Science for Society – Scientific Exploitation element of EOEP-5 (the fifth cycle of ESA’s Earth Observation Envelope Programme).

Training Format

The 5-day course will be held from 20 to 24 September 2021 as a hybrid event. If allowed to travel, lecturers and participants will be encouraged to attend the course at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Participants who cannot travel, due to the Covid regulations, can attend online.

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