Sample RGB

MODIS Fire RGB over Georgia (US)

While grayscale images are still useful, they often cannot match the effectiveness of RGB products. In fact, RGB products are often more useful than traditional single-channel color enhancement techniques.

Take this example-an EOS MODIS fire RGB product over the U.S. state of Georgia. (EOS stands for Earth Observing System, MODIS for Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer.) It's easy to distinguish active fires in pink from smoke in blue. Recently burned areas appear dark magenta, and vegetated areas are green. The product was constructed by combining three channels at different wavelengths. Each channel contributes key pieces of information.

Vis 0.6 image showing smoke from fires over Georgia (US), 29 April 2007

The vivid depiction of smoke depends strongly on the Channel 1, 0.63-micrometer (µm) visible image.

Vis 0.8 image showing burn scar from fire in Georgia (US), 29 April 2007

The black burn scars from recently burned areas come from the longer wavelength Channel 2, 0.86 µm visible image.

Terra MODIS, Near IR 2.1 ch image showing fires over Georgia (US), 29 April 2007 1606 UTC

Information about hotspots from intense fires comes from the Channel 7, 2.1 µm near-infrared image.

Imagen MODIS RGB de incendios sobre Georgia (EE.UU.)

By assigning each of the three spectral channels to a different primary color and combining them into one product, we get far more information than any single channel could provide. Note that this MODIS product is referred to as a false color RGB.

RGB products like this are routinely used in fire monitoring even though the MODIS imager was originally intended as a non-operational research instrument.


As more next generation polar-orbiting and geostationary weather satellites are launched, RGB products will be used routinely for a large number of applications, including fire monitoring. The Suomi-NPP satellite, launched in October 2011, marks the beginning of this new era from low earth orbit.


From a geostationary perspective, the U.S.’s GOES-R satellites will complement the existing constellation of EUMETSAT’s Meteosat satellites. This will expand the coverage of RGB capabilities from Europe and Africa to the Americas and eastern Pacific. RGB products will also become more common across Asia and the Western Pacific, as countries across that region launch geostationary weather satellites with similar spectrally enhanced imagers over the next decade.