Satellite imagery false colour composites for visualising wildfires

This is a wildfire near the China-Russia border inside Amur Oblast (49.4N 129.7E) on 7 May 2020. The fire is about 15 km x 10 km. This incredible image demonstrates the power of ‘false-colour’ composites for visualising satellite data. What does it show?

In the ‘true-colour’ image below, you might not notice that there is a fire raging on the ground. There’s a dark patch of land shrouded by clouds. This is how it would look to the human eye, if you were taking a ride on the satellite.

For the ‘false-colour’ image, we can visualise wavelengths of light that are invisible to the human eye. Short-wave infrared light reflected by plants is shown as green in this image, enabling a strong contrast between the live vegetation and the dead burnt vegetation.

Infrared energy from the intense heat of the fire show up as shades of red and orange. Some of the heat from the wildfire is so intense that it causes a glaring effect, like taking a photograph of the sun.

star glare from intense shortwave infrared emission by a wildfire Veil glaring effect

Sunlight reflected by the clouds shows up as a shade of blue. While the pink clouds are being illuminated from below by the heat from the fire!

This visualisation is built-in to the Sentinal-Hub EO browser as the false colour combination using Bands 12, 11, and 4 from the Sentinel-2 satellite. I processed the image further using photography software. Explore the imagery for yourself here.