Gone are the days of having to rely on carefully chosen statistics doled out by a government agency or news reporter in the event of a crisis.
Readily available satellite data and visualization tools online have made it possible for anyone to observe massive changes happening on a global scale. Of course, that data is only available insofar as government agencies with satellites have made their data available.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the USDA Forest Service provide information for interested people looking to see the latest on U.S. wildfires.
Now the European Space Agency is using its collected satellite data to provide nearly real-time data on the forest fires engulfing Moscow through its ATSR World Fire Atlas. It also has maps of world area hot spots on the European Space Agency Ionia Web site. Registration, which is free, will also garner you access to past data.
Armchair analysts can also view the changes in temperature and air quality thanks to NASA. NASA's Earth Observatory on Wednesday posted a map of carbon monoxide data for the Russia Federation that covers August 1 to 8.
The week prior, NASA posted a map of temperature anomalies for the Russian Federation for the week of July 20 to 27. The map compared data for the same week in 2010 to the years 2000 to 2008.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Web site is offering a look at the polluting effects of the burn. Data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on NASA's Aqua spacecraft allows a comparisons of air quality over the Russian Federation at 18,000 feet for July 21 versus August 1.
Of course, readers need to be cognizant of what it is they're looking at.
In the case of the carbon monoxide maps from NASA, for example, the data was collected from the MOPITT (Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere) sensor on NASA's Terra satellite. It collects carbon monoxide readings for Earth's atmosphere between 2 and 8 kilometers above ground. It's not necessarily indicative of ground-level exposure, which could be higher or lower for a specific given area, according to NASA.
The general public also benefits from those industrious citizens taking it upon themselves to post publicly available data in new ways.
Andy Lintner, a software developer from Royal Oak, Mich., for example combined tools from Google Maps with NOAA satellite tracking data so that his wife could better visualize how large the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had become. Lintner shared it with friends and then decided to post his tool as a Web site, IfItWasMyHome.com, so that anyone with an Internet connection could virtually layer the spill parameters over any geographical location.