This map by interactive designer John Nelson catalogues 11 years of major US fires. After recent wildfires blazed in Colorado and Utah following long periods of dry weather, Nelson gathered satellite imagery from NASA to show not only the locations of major fires since 2001, but also to show the intensity of each of those events—as compared to the average summertime output of a nuclear power plant.
© John Nelson, from this animated GIF
Each dot of color on the grayscale map represents a literal “hot spot” as viewed in NASA’s satellite images; purple represents lower intensity, with yellow very high intensity. Though Nelson only included fires that burned at over 100MW, that still includes enough lower intensity fires to render large swathes of the US in purple—a result of both smaller wildfires as well as prescribed fires.
The bright yellow dots that primarily (though not uniquely) appear over the western states represent fires akin to those seen recently in Colorado and Utah. Each one of the bright yellow dots stands for a fire that had an intensity equivalent of the output of three nuclear power plants or more (over 3,000MW). Nelson even pinpoints the “hottest momentary square kilometer”—on June 28th 2005, a wildfire which at one moment produced close to 14,000MW.
While 11 years is a pretty small sample for looking at overall trends, Nelson notes that there is an upward curve even within that data, and “2012 [is] only halfway through.” At IDV, Nelson has also created some equally compelling maps, which present data from over 100 years of world earthquakes, as well as 56 years of US tornados.
All images © John Nelson/IDV Solutions