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Fire Mapping by Re-photography

Fire Mapping by Re-photography

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Friday, February 7, 2020/Categories: natural history, photography, space science, sustainability, environment, climate change

Australian bush fires re-photographed in October, November, and December 2019 (credit: Copernicus satellites)

Last year, Australia experienced the worst fire season on record with blazes affecting many states, particularly New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland. The European Space Agency (ESA) and their Copernicus Program, observed the bush fires from space to determine their intensity and the emissions of dense smoke into the atmosphere. Satellite images gathered in October November, and December shows massive plumes of smoke over New South Wales, turning day into night in some places including Sydney. The new Copernicus data shows the 2019 fires to have been unprecedented when compared to the prior 16 years measurements in New South Wales, alone. The bush fires also burned with an intensity never seen before and in regions not typically affected by major fires including semi-tropical regions of New South Wales and tropical Queensland.


           Smoke plumes over New South Wales and Total Fire Radiative Power for NSW since 2003

According to European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), besides photographic maps the satellites also provided daily estimates of global fire emissions to establish the fire radiative power (FRP), a measurement of a fire's output of heat. The giant spike on the chart represents the heat measurements from 2003 through 2019.

Climate change is implicated by amplifying Australia's multi-year droughts and heatwaves that provided a 'perfect storm' for the bush fires to ignite. A Royal Commission has been established to determine what needs to be done to prevent such catastrophic fires in the future.



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