World of Change: Yellowstone

Video Player

Video Versions

This video shows the slow recovery from wildfires in Yellowstone National Park.

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory (

Story adapted from the article entitled "World of Change: Burn Recovery in Yellowstone" by Robert Simmon and Carl Key:

  • Photo of Rainbow Over Meadow:  Rainbow in Hayden Valley; Richard Lake; 1967; National Park Service (Yellowstone's Photo Collection) (
  • Photo of Fire:  Aerial view of leaping crown fire with billowing smoke on Mirror Plateau; Jim Peaco; 1988; National Park Service (Yellowstone's Photo Collection) (
  • Satellite Images: NASA images by Robert Simmon, based on Landsat 5 data from the  United States Geological Survey Global Visualization Viewer (1, 2)

Text, World of Change. The Earth spins in space amid twinkling stars. Burn Recovery in Yellowstone.
A rainbow ends between rolling grassy hills with forests in the background. Yellowstone National Park. Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. 1987 to 2019. In the summer of 1988, fire consumed vast stretches of Yellowstone National Park. Flames scorch a hillside under a massive plume of smoke. A series of satellite images shows how the fires changed the landscape, and how the landscape has slowly recovered.
In this pre-fire image, vegetation is green while geyser fields and lakes are blue. Old Faithful Geyser is labeled to the south with other blue geyser fields north of it amidst a sea of almost complete greenery in 1987. Later images, observed in visible and infrared light, show burned areas as red. Watch as new vegetation, including grasses, wildflowers, and trees gradually begin to heal the scars. Full recovery will take decades.
In 1988 a huge swathe of the park is covered in red. In 1989 even more. By 1990 and 1991 the red fades to a brownish color, and in starts and stops over the '90s the vegetation returns.
Clouds appear over the 1996 image.
By 1999, a muddy color covers much of the park.
In the early 2000's green starts to return, especially in the east.
Lighter greens start to take over in late 2000s.
By 2011 much of the east half is green.
In 2018 a muddy color covers most of the western half and a light green around the east. Clouds pass overhead. Side by side comparisons of August 1989 with severe fire damage and July 2019 with a light green and some brownish vegetation.