The National Polar-Orbiting Partnership (NPP), a collaboration between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has produced a series of high-resolution images that displays the planet’s vegetation in closer detail than ever before. They were created using data from the Visible-Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), an instrument on board the Suomi NPP satellite. VIIRS measures both visible and near-infrared light; because leaf cells reflect near-infrared light, the lushness of an area can be determined by how much of that light is “visible” to the instrument.
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The detailed maps created with VIIRS’ data reveal changes in vegetation over time, which can give scientists a heads-up on drought and wildfires, They can even warn of potential malaria outbreaks, according to the NOAA: “As vegetation grows in sub-Saharan Africa, so does the risk for malaria…Vegetation indexes provide world health organisations the lead time needed to distribute supplies and medicine.” The maps also indicate a global increase in vegetation, with more of it moving north as greenhouse gas emissions encourage photosynthesis.