Drifting Effects of NOAA Satellites on Long-Term Active Fire Records of Europe

Weber, Helga; Wunderle, Stefan (2019). Drifting Effects of NOAA Satellites on Long-Term Active Fire Records of Europe. Remote sensing, 11(4), p. 467. Molecular Diversity Preservation International MDPI 10.3390/rs11040467

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Explicit knowledge of different error sources in long-term climate records from space is required to understand and mitigate their impacts on resulting time series. Imagery of the heritage Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) provides unique potential for climate research dating back to the 1980s, flying onboard a series of successive National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Meteorological Operational (MetOp) satellites. However, the NOAA satellites are affected by severe orbital drift that results in spurious trends in time series. We identified the impact and extent of the orbital drift in 1 km AVHRR long-term active fire data. This record contains data of European fire activity from 1985–2016 and was analyzed on a regional scale and extended across Europe. Inconsistent sampling of the diurnal active fire cycle due to orbital drift with a maximum delay of ∼5 h over NOAA-14 lifetime revealed a ∼90% decline in the number of observed fires. However, interregional results were less conclusive and other error sources as well as interannual variability were more pronounced. Solar illumination, measured by the sun zenith angle (SZA), related changes in background temperatures were significant for all regions and afternoon satellites with major changes in −0.03 to −0.09 K deg−1 for △BT34 (p ≤ 0.001). Based on example scenes, we simulated the influence of changing temperatures related to changes in the SZA on the detection of active fires. These simulations showed a profound influence of the active fire detection capabilities dependent on biome and land cover characteristics. The strong decrease in the relative changes in the apparent number of active fires calculated over the satellites lifetime highlights that a correction of the orbital drift effect is essential even over short time periods.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Remote Sensing
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Weber, Helga, Wunderle, Stefan


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
900 History > 910 Geography & travel




Molecular Diversity Preservation International MDPI




Helga Weber

Date Deposited:

23 Apr 2019 08:45

Last Modified:

06 Dec 2022 18:19

Publisher DOI:






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