Satellite image reveals extent of thick smoke

Photo: Smoke from slash and burn fires set by Indonesian farmers blanketing the island of Borneo. (NASA/Aqua/MODIS)
Map: Indonesia

Heavy smoke from peat fires are continuing to blanket Borneo and many surrounding regions across Indonesia, as shown in the image taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite.

The red dots indicate hot spots where the satellite’s sensors have detected unusually warm surface temperatures caused by existing fires.

Small cumulus clouds are also visible along Borneo’s southern coast.

The fires were started by farmers engaged in slash and burn agriculture, a technique that involves burning of virgin rainforest to clear the way for commercial crops such as oil palm and acacia pulp plantations.

The 2015 burning season which began in September, is one of the most severe in the last two decades, with thick gray smoke triggering air quality alerts and health warnings across Indonesia and neighbouring countries.

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Many of the fires burn through areas containing soils underlain with peat, a mixture of partly decayed plant material formed in wetlands.

Peat fires are difficult to extinguish, often smouldering under the surface for months, releasing unusually large amounts of pollutants including three times as much carbon monoxide and ten times as much methane as savannah fires.

The fires in Indonesia have already emitted an estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, which is around four times the total average annual emissions of Australia.

This image was captured on October 19 from an altitude of about 700 kilometres by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.

Jesús Sánchez García

Pablo Dorador Ontiveros

Dulce Mª Sáez Martínez

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