[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8mhGBzPK50′]NASA’s latest Earth-observing satellite, the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP), is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Oct. 28 to extend key environmental data records established by an earlier generation of NASA satellites. To mark the launch, we are looking back at one of the scientific legacies NPP will build upon: the global fire data record. An instrument on NPP called the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) will extend this decades-long record into the future.

For more than a decade, instruments on Terra and Aqua, two of NASA’s flagship Earth-observing satellites, have scanned the surface of our planet for fires four times a day. The instruments, both Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers (MODIS), have revolutionized what scientists know about fire’s role in land cover change, ecosystem processes, and the global carbon cycle by allowing researchers to map the characteristics and global distribution of fires in remarkable detail.

The two instruments have detected more than 40 million actively burning fires and observed nearly 10 billion acres of charred land during tens of thousands of orbits. They have extended and refined upon about 20 years of data from a predecessor instrument — the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) — that orbited aboard a series of polar-orbiting weather satellites managed by…

NASA, October 2011