A new satellite image of our planet shows fires all over the world, from Australia to Canada to South America to Sub-Saharan Africa. But despite its striking appearance, much of it is actually quite common.
The map, made by NASA, indicates fires with red dots, based on heat measurements that detect fires. Although it seems as if the world is alarmingly on fire, there are fires every year. It is the unusual intensity of fires in certain regions that are related to man-made climate change that we need to worry about.
This is the uncropped image:
"Almost everywhere you've covered surfaces, you have fire, I do not think this is a crazy, unusual year for the whole world," said Christine Wiedinmyer, associate director for science at the Cooperative Institute for Environmental Science Research, a partnership between NOAA and the University of Colorado, Boulder.
But it is a particularly great year for certain parts of the world, she said Gizmodo. "The western US, California and British Columbia – it is a super big year."
You will notice that many of the data points appear in Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. These fires appear annually and usually come from slash-and-burn farming methods that are common in the region. These methods purify fields and replenish the nutrients in the soil, but can also cause smoke that is harmful to humans. Many of the fires in Brazil and Indonesia are also due to these farming methods.
NASA has a handy tool that shows how fires can burn around the world over time, demonstrating the annual nature of Saharan, Sub-Saharan and Indonesian fires.
But in some years, such as 2015, these practices led to forest fires that seriously affected air quality and led to haze in the region. Studies have suggested that the weather patterns of El Niño made 2015 very bad.
This context is crucial to understand a map like this. The fires to be really bad, yes, but you need more than a map to explain why.
Take the fire in North America, as well as in many parts of South America – they are forest fires. You have probably heard everything about the fires on the North American West Coast, many of which have been fueled and exacerbated by the constituent effects of dry weather, wind and high heat.
A recent study showed that south-central Chile faces many of the same climate-related problems, along with intense fires of themselves.
Another huge forest fire occurred yesterday in the south of Berlin, Germany and caused evacuations. The AP reports that these fires are complicated by buried ammunition from the blowing up of the Second World War. Germany has to deal with a particularly hot and dry summer.
You can expect climate change to aggravate the conditions that these fires cause in the future, especially in places where the human population is expanding.
"We know that the climate really boosts the severity of fire activity, particularly in the western US," Wiedinmyer said. These fires can also have global consequences, causing them to send smoke to the ocean, or to Europe, or to the poles, she said.
So you should not be surprised that there are so many fires on earth. But you should be concerned about the increase in forest fires, which we can expect to continue to worsen during our lives. And you should be really concerned about people who deny the very real and often dangerous impact of humanity on the environment.[NASA]