Thursday, June 22, 2023

A Year of Wildfires

NASA has released an animated map which shows the locations of active fires around the world over the last one and half years. The map Active Fires As Observed by VIIRS, 2022-Present uses observations from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) to show the locations of active fires on Earth for every day from Jan 5th 2022 to 21st June 2023.

VIIRS uses instruments on polar-orbiting satellites to observe and record visible light and infrared radiation on Earth. Fires release light in the form of infrared radiation and visible light. VIIRS can measure the intensity the location and intensity of this light to detect the location of fires on Earth.

You can explore NASA's animated video map by using the videos controls. For example if you pause the video anywhere in June of this year you can see the cluster of fires in Quebec and Nova Scotia which recently caused high levels of air pollution in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.

NASA's map also superbly visualizes the occurrence of fire seasons around the world, for example the active wildfire seasons in Central and Southern Africa. The Sahel region in Central Africa, has its dry season in December to March. You can see on the map that the number of fires in Central Africa increases drastically during this dry season. The dry season in Southern Africa occurs later (roughly April through Oct). Again the NASA map shows that the number of wildfires in Southern Africa grows dramatically in these months.

You can also watch animations of VIIRS active fires observations on the Global Forest Watch's interactive map. The Interactive World Forest Map includes a VIIRS layer which allows you to view active fires around the world for any selected date range.

The Forest Fires section of Global Forest Watch acknowledges that fire seasons (as seen in Central and Southern Africa) are a natural occurrence within many forest ecosystems. However it also points out that the severity and extent of wildfires are increasing because of global heating. According to Global Forest Watch hotter temperatures and therefore drier flora is leading to more "frequent, larger and higher intensity wildfires.

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