Russian Wildfires Set New Intensity Record

By on September 14th, 2010 08:08 GMT

A team of experts at the European Space Agency (ESA) says that the wildfires which affected the Russian capital and the rest of the country this year are the worst to take place over the last 14 years.

The data that led to this conclusion were taken by specialized, Earth-sensing satellites that ESA operates in orbital perches around the planet.

These accurate instruments are able to provide extremely sensitive readings, which can be used to devise long-term plot data on how wildfires and other natural disasters affect certain regions.

Satellites reveal that this year's massive wildfires, which ignited large swaths of forests and peat bogs, were produced by temperatures that at times exceeded 40 degrees Celsius.

This abnormal heatwave affected large portions of the country, which is not exactly famous for its tropical temperature levels. The capital city of Moscow was covered in thick blankets of smoke.

Numerous residents evacuated the city, searching for sanctuary outside of the contaminated area, as carbon monoxide levels rose three to four time beyond safe levels.

From orbit, the ESA ERS-2 and Envisat satellites used their Along Track Scanning Radiometer and the Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer instruments to keep track of temperatures.

They essentially acted like thermometers in the sky, measuring infrared and thermal radiation emitted by the Earth's surface at various locations.

“Flames reach temperatures that are detected by these sensors and confirm the presence of fire. Data gathered from fires across Russia from July 1996 to the present were used to plot the number of fires occurring monthly,” ESA experts say in a press release.

“The region near Moscow showed around six times the number of fires this August compared to previous years,” they go on to say.

Using such satellite data, ESA created the ATSR World Fire Atlas, which represents the longest worldwide fire record available, experts say.

The document provides scientists with the time, date, longitude and latitude of all the hot spots, including the ones in Russian and around Moscow.

“The atlas is an important scientific resource because fires have a significant impact on global atmospheric pollution, with biomass burning contributing to the global budgets of greenhouse gases such as like carbon dioxide,” the ESA crew concludes.

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