Saturday, July 21, 2018

A World of Fire and Smoke - A July 20 2018 Snapshot

Over the past few weeks US news has covered fires in the West; in California, Nevada, Oregon, New Mexico and Arizona They have burned millions of acres of forests, grassland, grazing land and most sadly, wheat crops ready for harvest in Oregon. Some fires are still burning and threaten homes, towns and livelihoods. 

Nevada fires:
Oregon fires:

Here is a snapshot of US and Canadian fires and smoke from the NOAA EOSDIS Worldview for July 20th. A click on the image or a visit to NOAA EOSDIS Worldview reveals the US and Canadian fires as red dots in the VIIRS imagery. 


Here are a couple of closer views:

The Western US
Source: NOAA EOSDIS Worldview, July 20, 2018

Eastern Canada
Source: NOAA EOSDIS Worldview, July 20, 2018

But how does this compare to the rest of the world?

The media has reported on fires in Sweden and Finland over the last few days, with as many as 60 forest fires burning in Sweden and dozens in Finland. What has not been reported are the Russian fires burning in the Kola Peninsula and Western Russia, many well above the Arctic Circle.


Scandinavian and Kola Peninsula Russian fires:
Source: NOAA EOSDIS Worldview, July 20, 2018

So what else is not being reported? 


Fires are burning in Indonesia and Australia, with the Indonesian fires potentially signalling a return of deforestation for more palm oil plantations. These fires cause smoke and haze to cover Malaysia and cause significant health hazards. Australia's fires may relate to drought conditions in its north.

Source: NOAA EOSDIS Worldview, July 20, 2018


Amazon rainforest and savannah fires are are creating ongoing loss of habitat and biodiversity as agricultural interests destroy significant swathes of rainforest and open savannah areas. Fires in eastern Brazil, and the loss of forest in these areas is bringing the country closer to a tipping point in which forest loss leads to irreversible change in its climate.

As a recent Vox article reported, "But in a dramatic turnaround, tree cover loss doubled there (Brazil) from 2015 to 2017. As the World Resource Institute’s Frances Seymour writes, this is “in part due to unprecedented forest fires in the Amazon ... [and] to a relaxation of law enforcement efforts in the midst of the country’s ongoing political turmoil and fiscal crisis.”

"According to Carlos Nobre, a Brazilian scientist and expert on climate change, we’ve already deforested about 18 percent of the Amazon. Reaching 20 to 25 percent deforestation would cause the “system to flip to non-forest ecosystems in eastern, southern and central Amazonia,” he wrote with Thomas Lovejoy in a recent paper in Science Advances."
“We are very close to 20 percent,” he said Wednesday at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum. “We need to stop completely Amazonian deforestation. We do not want the Amazon to become a global cattle ranch.”
In most tropical regions, demand for soy, beef, palm oil, and other commodities — as well as fires — is driving the bulk of deforestation. In Brazil, which lost 11 million acres of forest cover in 2017, the main use for cleared land is cattle pasture."

The brown areas in eastern Brazil represent areas undergoing long term drought and change in temperature, that are shifting the climate as deforestation occurs. The SPEI Global Drought Index 48 month base displays the tragic truth.

Source: SPEI Global Drought Monitor

Central Africa:

Almost nothing is reported on African forest and savanna fire impact in the Western media. Much of the African forest fire activity is related to agricultural production. As Global Forest Watch reported, "Tree cover loss in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reached a record high in 2017, increasing 6 percent from 2016.  Agriculture, artisanal logging and charcoal production drove the tree cover loss, with nearly 70 percent of it occurring in agricultural areas known as the rural complex." 


However, like Brazil, if the global community does not work with central Africa, especially the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to slow charcoal fire use and deforestation, the world may lose another major carbon sink to becoming a carbon source.

Source: NOAA EOSDIS Worldview, July 20, 2018

Central Russia and Siberia

Massive and pervasive forest, peat and permafrost fires have burned in central and Siberian Russia since April. After initial reporting in April and May, the media in Russia went silent and Western media is not focused on the story, except when plumes of smoke cross the Arctic into Canada and then New England. 

Source: NOAA EOSDIS Worldview, July 20 2018

While the global community talks about deforestation in the tropics, deforestation by Russia deliberately not fighting these fires needs to be considered. However, it is so dry that it is almost impossible to do so on this large scale. 

The SPEI Global Drought Monitor makes this dilemma apparent. Some portions of central and Siberian Russia have experienced comparative high heat and deep drought for the last four years. as part of a decline that began in 2010.


While these torched areas may grow back, in some areas it will take a century or more for full restoration. In some cases because of the scale of what is destroyed, the forest may not return. But megatons of soot, ash and carbon monoxide are being released by these fires at high concentrations. Carbon monoxide concentrations in some areas are above 4800 ppbv.

Source: Earth Nullschool

These fires and resulting emissions are making it more challenging for the world to make progress in meeting a future 1.5 or 2C goal set in the Paris Climate Agreement.


  1. Do you know if any frozen methane hydrates (undersea) were released by this week's big quake in Alaska?
    I looked at null school map and it doesn't have CH4 option.
    I am not sure if any methane hydrates are near that part of Alaska.

    Thanks ...

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