Global Wildfires: NASA Image From Space Shows ‘World is on Fire’

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A new satellite image of our planet shows fires raging across the world, from Australia to Canada to South America to Sub-Saharan Africa. But despite its striking appearance, much of this is actually quite ordinary.

The NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Worldview application uses images from 700 global, full-resolution satellites, updated within three hours of observations to show the world as it is “right now.”

Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) is used to measure the aerosol optical thickness from hundreds of kilometers above the Earth. These measurements are based on the fact that aerosols change the reflection and absorption of visible and infrared light in the atmosphere. Aerosols are all around you and you are inhaling millions of them this very second. These minute solid and liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere, include dust, smoke, pollen, soot and even volcanic ash.

NASA explained that the image seems to show that the most concentrated fires are taking place in Africa and the research organization reasoned that it’s likely because most of the fires are agricultural fires. NASA also said, “The location, widespread nature, and the number of fires suggest that these fires were deliberately set to manage land” and further added, “Farmers often use fire to return nutrients to the soil and to clear the ground of unwanted plants. While fire helps enhance crops and grasses for pasture, the fires also produce smoke that degrades air quality.”

As for North and South America, the image indicates that blazes are predominantly wildfires, which accounts for the fact that the red dots are more spread out. Central Chile, like the United States, is also experiencing extreme drought conditions, which aids the spread of the fires. So far this year the United States has experienced 42,697 fires, and a total of 6,239,106 acres have been burned.

Australia’s January to July period in 2018 has been the warmest since 1910, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, which has caused brushfires to become larger and more extreme.  In various areas around the world where wildfires have been raging, the smoke from the blazes has contributed to poor air quality, leading to various agencies issuing warnings to residents.  While wildfires used to be confined to only the hottest months, the wildfire season has extended to most of the year in some areas.