NASA Tracks Russian Wildfires

As well as their effects

This summer was disastrous for the Russian Federation. Excessive temperatures have triggered heat waves that sparked numerous wildfires all across the massive countr, and the smoke they produce can be felt above the capital city of Moscow as well. In fact, the city is covered in a massive blanket of smog, which features four time the normal concentrations of carbon monoxide. This is very dangerous for the general population, given that the carbon compound can produce permanent brain damage.

The wildfires charred more than 693 square miles (1,796 square kilometers) of land, destroyed more than 2,000 households, and killed 52 people. The latest available data, which were supplied on August 6 by the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, show that 558 wildfires were devastating the nation. The American space agency has alloted vast resources to keeping an eye on these events, and also for providing Russia with the latest readings on the situation. Russia and Europe helped the US with satellite data during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and now it's the US' turn to return the favor.

The NASA's Aqua spacecraft is tracking down carbon monoxide concentrations all over Russia, via the use of its Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument. The attached image shows how things develop at an altitude of 5.5 kilometers (18,000 feet) above the planet's surface. The abundance of carbon monoxide such high up is very concerning, given the long-term effects the gas has. What is even more worrying is the fact that these altitudes are the ones at which pollution is best transported from an area to another.

“As shown in Figure 1, acquired July 21, 2010, the concentration of carbon monoxide from the fires on that date was largely limited to the European part of Russia (western and central Russia). This contrasts dramatically with the data in Figure 2, acquired on August 1, when the carbon monoxide concentration was much higher and the area of the fires had increased significantly. The concentration of carbon monoxide is continuing to grow. According to Aug. 4 NASA estimates, the smoke plume from the fires spans about 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) from east to west, approximately the distance from San Francisco to Chicago,” say experts at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California. The team here manages the AIRS instrument.


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