NASA Satellites Tracking Amazon Fires Show Heavy Smoke, Scorched Earth

NASA's Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8 photographed several fires near the border of Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil.
NASA's Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8 photographed several fires near the border of Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.)

NASA satellites have observed thick smoke billows and extremely high temperatures as record-breaking fires continue to scorch the Amazon. 

On Aug. 23, NASA's Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) photographed regions of northern Brazil and eastern Bolivia. The satellite observations covered swaths of land about the size of a football field, according to a statement from NASA

The observations revealed that surface temperatures in these areas exceeded 220 degrees Fahrenheit (104 degrees Celsius), which is the maximum temperature that ECOSTRESS is able to measure. In addition, thick clouds of smoke obscure most of the satellite's view of the Amazon fires

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The ECOSTRESS instrument is mounted on the International Space Station and thus able to observe areas of the planet at different times of day, whereas satellites in other orbits observe areas at the same time each day. Therefore, the ECOSTRESS offers a unique vantage point for monitoring the Amazon fires, according to the statement.  

NASA's ECOSTRESS captured a snapshot of fires burning in the Bolivian Amazon on Aug. 23, 2019.   (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 has also observed fires burning north of the Paraguay River near Puerto Busch, as well as near the border of Bolivia and Brazil, outside of the Amazon rainforest. 

OLI observations taken on Aug. 25 used visible and shortwave-infrared light to highlight the fires burning through the area. Large plumes of smoke trailed active fires, while recently burned areas appear black in the photos. 

Data from NASA's MODIS (or Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) sensors suggest the fire started in Paraguay in the beginning of August and then spread into Bolivia and Brazil by Aug. 19, according to a statement from NASA Earth Observatory.  

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.