Wildfires can cause devastation and are also to blame for more than a quarter of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. Satellites play a key role in mapping landscape scarred by fire – but the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission has revealed that there are more fires than previously thought.

From the vantage of space, satellites can be used to detect fires and monitor how they spread and, in the first instance, this can often help relief efforts. However, satellites are also important for mapping the scars that fires leave in their wake, particularly in remote regions.

It is currently estimated that fires contribute 25–35% of total annual greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere so more precise information gained from satellite-based scar-burn maps could help to better understand how they add to the greenhouse effect.

Land disturbed by fire is an ‘essential climate variable’, which are global datasets for the key components of Earth’s climate.

This increase in the amount of burned area and the fact that it is made up of small areas came as no surprise as Copernicus Sentinel-2 has a resolution of 20 m, more than ten times the zoom of other satellite instruments.