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Explained: Wildfires peaked in August, half were in Asia

The data revealed that 49% of the fires were detected in Asia, around 28% were detected in South America, 16% in Africa, and the remaining were recorded in North America, Europe and Oceania.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi | Updated: October 29, 2019 4:57:42 am
amazon fire, wildfire, forest fire, express explained Smoke from an area of the Amazon forest in Brazil on September 17. (Reuters)

Compared to August 2018, there were almost five times as many wildfires across the world in August 2019, the European Space Agency (ESA) has announced citing data from its Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas. August and September 2019 were also the months during which fires in the Amazon rainforest were at the centre of worldwide attention. A detailed analysis of the August 2019 fires, however, shows that it was Asia that accounted for nearly half of these fires, the ESA said.

“Fires in the Amazon sparked a global outcry this summer, but fires have also been blazing in the Arctic, France, Greece, Indonesia as well as many other areas in the world,” the ESA said.

PEAK & DISTRIBUTION: The ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission recorded 79,000 fires in August this year, compared to just over 16,000 fires detected during the same period last year. These figures were achieved by using data from the Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas Prototype, which also provided a breakdown of these fires per continent.

The data revealed that 49% of the fires were detected in Asia, around 28% were detected in South America, 16% in Africa, and the remaining were recorded in North America, Europe and Oceania.

HOW THEY ARE MAPPED: The Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas uses a method that enables it to identify all active fires at night. The sensors on satellites measure thermal infrared radiation to take the temperature of Earth’s land surfaces. This information is used to detect and monitor the heat emitted by the fires.

Source: European Space Agency

The Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas uses the satellite data to plot the number of fires occurring monthly. It cannot pick up all fires due to satellite overpass constraints and cloud coverage. The ESA noted, however, that it is statistically representative from one month to the other and from one year to the other.

“We have never seen an increase of wildfires of this kind since the ATSR World Fire Atlas was created in 1995,” the ESA’s Olivier Arino said in the statement.

Quantifying and monitoring fires is important for the study of climate because, as the ESA pointed out, fires have a significant impact on global atmospheric emissions, with biomass burning contributing to the global budgets of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide.

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