Scientists have released new satellite images that show how much of the Earth's surface is covered in vegetation. Using the VIIRS sensor aboard the NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP satellite, experts collected data between April 2012 and April 2013 and used it to create a new vegetation index which identifies how much of the sun's energy is absorbed by plant life on Earth and how much is reflected back into space.
The resulting photos (a high-resolution interactive map can be found here) highlight areas where vegetation is lush and where it is barren — including deserts, snowy peaks, and urban areas — stripping out 75 percent of the planet covered with water. Using infrared imaging, NOAA is able to distinguish between vegetation, rock, and other terrain more accurately than other satellites. This allows scientists to advance weather model accuracy and understand changes in seasonal vegetation cover. These small changes can help detect levels of fuel that could potentially cause forest fires, also providing early warnings for droughts and even malaria outbreaks.