10 July 2008

July 2008 wildfire

As the Northern Hemisphere moves deeper into summer, wildfire activity continues in many regions there.

Southeastern Russia continues to see significant wildfire activity. NASA's Earth Observatory Natural Hazards noted the smoke from these fires affecting Japan about a week ago. This global composite hotspot map, from 18-28 June 2008, indicates that those outbreaks were were part of a broader area of fire throughout the southeast of the country.

The MODIS real-time imagery for 8 July (right) suggests that many of those continue to burn today, indeed they are quite widespread. This is 4km resolution image covering roughly a 1000 x 1000 km area. The image is a real-time image, so there is some distortion on the edges. (I cut most of this off). 'Enhancing' the image brought out some apparent (but still faint) lat-lon lines; I'm guessing 60N, with longitude lines of 130 and 140 E. North is off center about 10-20 degrees to the right (follow the long lines). That is also reasonably compatible with the other estimate.

Fires across southern Russia have been burning on and off since at least April. This is evidenced by the image of Lake Baikal used in this post shows significant wildfire activity in May. A casual glance through the archived fire maps (from the NASA site above) of the same two 10-day periods each year suggests that fire activity occurs in the region every year. This year seemed a bit more active, especially during April than previous years, and continues a string of apparently active years (2006 and 2007 also)

The current image shows a large smoke plume with some of these fires. The smoke has been notable and widespread in many of these cases. The CIMSS Satellite Blog backtracked some suspicious haze of the northwestern US to a southeastern Russia source.

California is currently undergoing an unprecedented bout of wildfire activity. Over 1000 fires started in a massive lightning storm in late-June. Many fires have been raging uncontained for several weeks, with many smaller fires merging into 'complexes' in many locales. While lightning-ignited fires are not terribly uncommon in the mountains of CA, the sheer number of fires lit in this one event has not been noted previously. In the wildfire post from April some very early fire activity in Big Sur was noted with some sense of foreboding.

A nice image showing the fires California was captured on 6 July. The largest fire is the so-called Basin fire, which has burnt roughly 30 000 ha to date. The situation remains critical, with the fire only ~20% contained. Some gains on the fires around the state have been made, but a heatwave looms over the next few days.

The fires are also affecting on the extremely-endangered California Condor. Under threat are the newly-hatched chicks. Considerable effort has been made to insure their safety, with a helicopter rescue of some eight chicks. The fate of several other breeding pairs remains uncertain.

Other fires have been noted in the northern reaches of Canada, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary has occurred (from perusing some of the info here). The linked image shows some dramatic smoke plume. Real-time imagery from MODIS indicates that there were still fires burning this general area on 8 July. A forest fire in Turkey that killed two people was also reported on EONH. The accompanying image shows a thick smoke plume extending into the Mediterranean and affecting Cyprus.

Are these fires a result of a changing climate? Or perhaps it's just a 'bad year'? Events in California are certainly alarming; large fire events have become increasingly common since 2000. They are no longer an anomaly, but a new ecological reality. Similarly, the apparent increase in fire activity in the Russian forests could reflect some shift in the local climate -- perhaps associated with the large reductions in Arctic ice observed recently and/or the possible melting of the Siberian permafrost. This permafrost/forest ecosystems represents a tremendous carbon storage, the loss of which would likely create considerable climate havoc. Regardless of whatever relationship these or other wildfires may or may not have with global warming, the fact remains that wildfires are an undeniable ecological force. Careful management of wildfire will prove to be an essential tool for both adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

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