Payne Institute’s EOG Measures Chilean Wildfires


Payne Institute’s EOG Measures Chilean Wildfires

By Mikhail Zhizhin, Christopher Elvidge, Kristin Ziv, and Morgan Bazilian

February 9, 2024

The Chilean wildfires could be the deadliest on record in that country, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.  Chilean authorities say the fire has killed at least 131 people and hundreds more are missing.  Firefighters are still trying to contain more than 160 fires. The hardest hit areas are around Viña del Mar, along the coast. The deadly fires are believed to be the result of El Niño, along with a drought that has lasted a decade – the longest drought in 1,000 years.

With its VIIRS Nightfire (VNF) algorithm, the Earth Observation Group at the Payne Institute for Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines, detects fires worldwide within three to five hours after the satellite overpass. VIIRS is the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite which is flown jointly by NASA and NOAA. The VIIRS design was set by meteorologists, but other valuable products are also produced from VIIRS data. EOG developed VNF in 2012 for quantifying natural gas flaring and biomass burning. VNF is the only global fire detection product that calculates fire temperatures, source sizes and heat output using physical laws.

“The unique feature of the algorithm is that it is able to differentiate between fires that occur in the crown of trees and the ground, and it can distinguish non-flaming components of biomass burning (smoldering),” said Dr. Mikhail Zhizhin, researcher at EOG, Payne Institute for Public Policy. “Currently, we collect data from three satellites, which gives us a chance to look at forest fires three to four times every night.  We have an early alert system to disseminate fire alerts by email and messengers.  And EOG is participating in the Xprize competition for near-real-time satellite detection of wildfires.”

A time series with the total heat from all the fires over a 4-day period, starting Feb. 1.







(clouds obscured readings on Feb. 2)

Animation of the fire area by two-square-kilometer cells


Wildfire detections by the VIIRS Nightfire around Viña del Mar, Feb. 3-4


Mikhail Zhizhin
Research Associate, Earth Observation Group

Zhizhin Mikhail Nikolaevich, M.Sci in mathematics from the Moscow State University in 1984, Ph.D. in computational seismology and pattern recognition from the Russian Acad. Sci. in 1992. Research positions from 1987 to 2012 in geophysics, space research and nuclear physics at Russian Acad. Sci., later at NOAA and CU Boulder. Currently he is a researcher at the Earth Observation Group at Colorado School of Mines. His applied research fields evolved from high performance computing in seismology, geodynamics, terrestrial and space weather to deep learning in remote sensing. He is developing new machine learning algorithms to better understand the Nature with Big Data.

Christopher Elvidge
Senior Research Associate, Director of Earth Observation Group

Christopher D. Elvidge has decades of experience with satellite low light imaging data, starting in 1994. He pioneered nighttime satellite observation on visible lights, heat sources including gas flares and wildfires, as well as bright lit fishing vessels. He led the development of these nighttime remote sensed products with images from DMSP, JPSS, and Landsat satellites. These data are very popular and used globally in both public and private sectors. As of February 2018, he has more than 11,000 scholarly publication citations.

Kristin Ziv
Payne Institute Communications Associate

After receiving a Masters degree in Journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School, Kristin worked as a public relations professional in Chicago.  She has both agency and non-profit experience.  After raising a family, she campaigned for and was elected to public office, serving a term as a Village Trustee in Winnetka, IL, before moving to Colorado in 2019.

Morgan Bazilian
Director, Payne Institute and Professor of Public Policy

Morgan Bazilian is the Director of the Payne Institute and a Professor of public policy at the Colorado School of Mines. Previously, he lead energy specialist at the World Bank. He has over two decades of experience in the energy sector and is regarded as a leading expert in international affairs, policy and investment. He is a Member of the Council on Foreign Relations.


The mission of the Payne Institute at Colorado School of Mines is to provide world-class scientific insights, helping to inform and shape public policy on earth resources, energy, and environment. The Institute was established with an endowment from Jim and Arlene Payne, and seeks to link the strong scientific and engineering research and expertise at Mines with issues related to public policy and national security.

The Payne Institute Commentary Series offers independent insights and research on a wide range of topics related to energy, natural resources, and environmental policy. The series accommodates three categories namely: Viewpoints, Essays, and Working Papers.

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DISCLAIMER: The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions, beliefs, viewpoints, or official policies of the Payne Institute or the Colorado School of Mines.