A Look At This Year's Raging Wildfires -- From Space

Climate change is bringing longer and more destructive fire seasons.

30/07/2016 10:40 AM AEST | Updated 30/07/2016 10:40 AM AEST

Climate change has not only sent global temperatures spiraling out of control, it has breathed fire into Earth’s wild lands.

Fire seasons are an average 78 days longer than they were in 1970, and the number of acres scorched each year has doubled since 1980, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

If the start of the 2016 fire season is any indication, this alarming trend won’t be extinguished anytime soon. NASA is providing a unique view of the destruction by using satellites to help track and monitor fires ― valuable information for fire managers on the ground ― as well as look at how these blazes are affecting air quality and releasing greenhouse gases.

Lesley Ott, a scientist at NASA’S Goddard Space Flight Center, said the technology provides scientists with “the best view that we’ve ever had of the global picture.” 

“Satellites give us a really unique perspective on fires,” Ott said in an interview posted to the space agency’s website. “We can see the hot spot while the fire’s going on, we can see the smoke that’s pouring off. And then after the fire’s completed, we can actually look at the burn scar and see the impact on vegetation, and even the vegetation regrowth in the year’s to come.” 

In May, a wildfire driven by unusually hot, dry weather burned through the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, scorching nearly 1.5 million acres and displacing tens of thousands of people.

In California, two major wildfires ― the Soberanes fire along the Central Coast and the Sand fire around the Santa Clarita Valley near Los Angeles ― continue to rage. As of Friday, they had burned a collective 70,000 acres.

While these large fires have garnered widespread media attention, they only begin to tell the story of what’s happening in the U.S. and around the world. 

“Already in the U.S. this year, more than 29,000 fires have burned 2.6 million acres,” NASA scientist Doug Morton said in an online interview. “The Amazon is the driest it’s been in 14 years, and smoke from wildfires in the Amazon can drift to southern Brazil, changing air quality and potentially impacting the [Rio de Janeiro] Olympics.”

Below, a look at some of NASA’s incredible and gut-wrenching satellite imagery of this year’s fires, from California and China, to Canada to Russia. 

NASA MODIS Rapid Response, Jeff Schmaltz
"On July 29, 2016, fires peppered the ground while smoke spread across the skies over eastern China. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image. Dozens of fires, marked by red outlines, appear south and southwest of Beijing.  Smoke appears most thick over the Shandong Bandao peninsula. Many, if not most, of the fires in this image are agricultural fires." -- NASA
NASA MODIS Rapid Response, Jeff Schmaltz
Northwest territories, Canada. "According to the Northwest Territories (NWT) Government Facebook page one new fire has been reported in the NWT in the past 24 hours. 164 wildfires have been reported in the NWT, affecting about 181,955 hectares (449,620 acres)."  -- NASA, July 29, 2016
NASA MODIS Rapid Response, Jeff Schmaltz
"Bushfires in the Northern Territory of Australia are dotting the landscape in this image captured by the Suomi NPP satellite's VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument on July 28, 2016." -- NASA
NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
The Aqua satellite captured this image of the Soberanes fire in northern California on July 27, 2016.
NASA MODIS Rapid Response, Jeff Schmaltz
Greek islands. "A state of emergency has been declared on the island of Chios due to the fire that broke out early in the morning hours of Monday, July 25, 2016.  Dozens of firefighters and equipment were dispatched to fight the fire which quickly spread due to high temperatures, dry conditions, and high winds." -- NASA
NASA MODIS Rapid Response, Jeff Schmaltz
"Many wildfires continue pepper central Russia and created a portrait of swirling smoke in a satellite image. The Suomi NPP satellite's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument identified smoke and heat from many wildfires on July 18, 2016 at 06:30 UTC (2:30 a.m. EDT). In the image the red area indicate hotspots and the location of the fires." -- NASA
NASA MODIS Rapid Response, Jeff Schmaltz
"NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite detected thousands of fires burning in central Africa on July 11, 2016. The fires are represented by the multitudes of red dots. Most of the fires burn in grass or cropland." -- NASA
NASA MODIS Rapid Response, Jeff Schmaltz
In this July 2, 2016 photo, fires are seen raging in northern Saskatchewan and the Northwestern Territories of Canada.
NASA's satellite image shows columns of smoke rising up from the myriad of wildfires, with NASA outlining actively burning areas in red over the Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on May 16, 2016
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