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ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellites document Amazon fires

29 Aug 2019

Sentinel-3 spots 4000 fires between 1st-24th August, 2019, compared with 1110 in same period in 2018.

Thousands of fires have been breaking out in the Amazon rainforest and the rate of growth has been dramatically increasing, sparking widespread concern among environmentalists, governments and citizens across the world – exemplified by this week’s G7 agreement to invest €20 million to help Brazil fight the fires.

Evidence of the growth of the fires has come from satellite data, which show that there are almost four times as many fires so far in 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. Besides Brazil, parts of Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina have also been affected.

Using Copernicus Sentinel-3 data, as part of the Sentinel-3 World Fires Atlas, almost 4000 fires were detected from 1 August to 24 August 2019, while last year there were far fewer during the same period, just 1110 fires.

While forest fires normally occur in Brazil’s dry season, which runs from July to October, the unprecedented increase is reported to come from both legal and illegal deforestation which allows land to be used for agricultural purposes, rising global temperatures are also thought to be making the region more susceptible to fire.

ESA additionally commented, “The Amazon basin is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, spanning four countries and is home to millions of plants and animals. It produces a significant amount of the world’s oxygen – and is crucial for helping to regulate global warming as the forests absorb millions of tonnes of carbon emissions every year.”

Counting the Amazon wildfires

Dr Olivier Arino from ESA’s Department of Science, Applications & Climate commented, “By processing 249 images for August 2018 and 275 images for August 2019, we can see the incredible number of fires burning in the Amazon. This was achieved by the World Fire Atlas night time algorithm, in order to avoid any possible false alarms with the daytime algorithm.”

Plumes of smoke have spread across the Amazon region. Strong winds have blown smoke to São Paulo – more than 2500 km away— causing a blackout in the city, ESA reports. According to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring System (CAMS), smoke has travelled as far as the Atlantic coast.

CAMS also reports that the fires have "released 228 megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as copious amounts of carbon monoxide. The fires also threaten the lives of many indigenous people."

The Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service was activated to help respond to the Amazon fires; the service uses satellite observations to help civil protection authorities and, in cases of disaster, the international humanitarian community to help to respond to diverse emergencies.

The severity of the fires has reached the highest political levels. Deemed an international crisis, the G7 Nations who met in France earlier this week, have offered €20 million emergency funding to assist Brazil and its neighbouring countries to put out the fires, according to French President Emmanuel Macron.

Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, commented, “As we continue to face the ongoing climate crisis, satellites are essential in monitoring wildfires in remote areas, especially for a key component of the Earth system such as the Amazon.”

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