This TERRA-MODIS image acquired 19 August 2002 shows thick haze across Central Kalimantan and spreading across the entire island of Borneo. Multiple Envisat instruments were also used during the fires to peer beneath the smoke and spot individual hotspots. Credits: NASA
Burning peat swamps in Kalimantan, Borneo. ESA-led research has established that when these peat swamps - formed over thousands of years - start to smoulder, they release vast quantities of carbon. Multiple Envisat sensors have been used to study the 2002 fires.
Credits: Dr Florian Siegert/Remote Sensing Solutions GmbH
Multiple sensors on ESA’s Envisat environmental satellite have been used to peer beneath a vast pall of smoke above tropical Borneo and detect fire hotspots – known to add millions of tons of harmful greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Fires occur often during the dry season on the South East Asian island of Borneo, but it isn’t only the forests that burn. Lowland tropical peat swamps are formed from layers of woody debris too waterlogged to fully decompose. Slowly deposited over thousands of years, the carbon-rich peat strata have been known to reach a thickness of up to 20 metres.
By rights these humid peat swamps shouldn’t be vulnerable to flame but during the last couple of decades the Indonesian government started draining them for conversion into agricultural land. In an unfortunate side effect the dried-up peat swamps are turned into tinderboxes – and once a peat fire begins smouldering it is almost impossible to put out.
Henri Laur | alfa
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