False Color

Example of a false color RGB


This false color RGB, developed from MODIS data, looks similar to EUMETSAT’s natural color RGB. Interpretation is very similar for most purposes. The MODIS false color product does a better job at detecting fires due to the inclusion of a near-infrared channel that is sensitive to intense fires. The RGB can also be made from MSG imagery (without the fire capability), from VIIRS imagery on board Suomi NPP and JPSS satellites, from imagery on board the FY-3 satellites, and will be possible using the next generation GOES-R ABI, Advanced Himawari Imager (AHI), FY-4 AGRI and MTG FCI imagers.

Coverage: Daytime only, requires solar reflectance information

Channels (red, green, blue):

  • Polar-orbiting satellites:
    • Terra and Aqua MODIS:
      0.63 µm Vis; 0.86 µm NIR; 2.1 µm SWIR
    • Suomi NPP and future JPSS VIIRS:
      0.64 µm Vis; 0.865 µm NIR; 2.25 µm SWIR
    • FY-3 MERSI:
      0.65 µm Vis; 0.865 µm NIR; 2.13 µm SWIR
  • Geostationary satellites:
    • Future GOES-R ABI, Advanced Himawari Imager (AHI), and MTG FCI:
      0.64 µm Vis; 0.865 µm NIR; 2.25 µm SWIR
    • Future FY-4 AGRI:
      0.65 µm Vis; 0.825 µm NIR; 2.25 µm SWIR

Color scheme:

  • Low clouds are white
  • Vegetation is green
  • Deserts are reddish brown
  • Snow cover and high ice clouds are cyan
  • Intense fire are orange or pink
  • Burn scars are orange or brown


  • Two out of the three MODIS input channels have 0.25 km spatial resolution, which provides very detailed views
  • VIIRS on Suomi NPP and future JPSS satellites has all three input channels at a relatively high 0.37 km spatial resolution for providing detailed views
  • ABI on future GOES-R satellites has all three input channels at refresh rates from 15 minutes across the full Earth disk to as frequent as 30 seconds over small domains for high impact weather and other environmental events
  • Product is similar to the MSG Natural Color product but can also identify fire hot spot signatures
  • Provides an intuitive view for terrain classification that makes it easy to interpret surface features


  • High ice clouds, deep convective clouds (e.g. thunderstorms), and snow cover appear as cyan, making them hard to differentiate
  • Thin cirrus clouds are difficult to detect

Live data links:


MODIS false color RGB over Southern California, 15 Mar 2010 with burn scars and mountain snow, and irrigated desert agriculture pointed out

This March scene over southern California shows springtime green over the coastal regions against desert tans and browns over the interior deserts. The intensive agriculture of the California’s Central Valley makes the desert green south of the Salton Sea. A burn scar from the previous summer’s Station Fire in orange contrasts vividly with snow on the nearby peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains.


Animation of a global MSG natural product RGB, 20 April 2009, 0600

This sequence of daily 250-meter resolution MODIS false color images shows the rapidly increasing size of the burn scar associated with the Station Fire from 28 August to 07 September 2009.

The fire burn scar is the large darker red feature, which grows very quickly to the north and east on 30 to 31 August.

The hottest actively burning fires appear as smaller clusters of pink to white along the periphery of the burn scar.

Thick smoke partially obscures the burn scar area on 01 September, while large pyrocumulus clouds form over the eastern portion of the fire activity on 02 September.

As of the morning of 08 September, the Station Fire had burned over 160,000 acres, making it the largest fire in Los Angeles County history and the ninth largest fire in California history.