Choking smoke was interrupting air and ship transportation in and around the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in early October 2006. Fires on the two islands were churning out a blanket of haze that mingled with clouds and reduced visibility to unsafe levels. In addition to their immediate impacts on air quality and human society, fires in tropical lowland forests affect increasingly threatened habitat for rainforest plants and animals, including the endangered orangutans. And because they release significant amounts of carbon dioxide and particle pollution, such as soot, the fires affect the global climate.
AQUA 8 October 2006
This pair of images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASAs Aqua satellite from Sunday, 8 October 2006, shows the haze in the area. The top image is a photo-like image, made from MODIS observations of visible light. Smoke appears grayish white in contrast to the bright white of clouds. Fires detected by MODIS are marked in red. The bottom image is made from a combination of visible, shortwave infrared, and near-infrared light. Because smoke is more transparent in the shortwave and near-infrared part of the light spectrum than it is in the visible part, this false-color type of image thins the haze and permits a view at the islands below. Smoke is transparent blue, clouds made of water droplets are white, clouds made of ice crystals are bright blue, vegetation is bright green, and the ocean is dark blue to black.
The fires on Sumatra and Borneo had been burning for several weeks. During the regional dry season (roughly August-October), fires are common, despite Indonesias efforts to crack down on illegal burning. Sometimes fires are the result of slash and burn deforestationclearing of rainforest for palm plantations, for example. Other times, the fires escape during brush clearing or other maintenance activities on already cleared land. Fires in the islands low-lying forests and peat swamps generate massive amounts of smoke. Because these low-lying forests and swamp areas are inundated throughout parts of the year, the decay of dead vegetation on the ground proceeds slowly. The thick layers of dead, but un-decayed, vegetationpeataccumulate over many years. Fires burning in dry peat are very smoky and difficult to put out: some can burn underground for years.
Large and small-scale agriculture are not the only contributors to the fires. The droughts Indonesia experiences during El Niño episodes, such as the particularly severe 1997-1998 event, make the forests and peat lands more likely to catch fire. Forests that have been degraded by logging are also more likely to burn. According to a 2002 study published in the scientific journal Nature, somewhere between 0.81 and 2.57 million tons of carbon were released by tropical lowland forest and peat land fires in Indonesia in 1997. The incident was one of the leading culprits behind what turned out to be the largest annual increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations since records began in the late 1950s.
Page S.E., Siegert, F., Rieley, J.O., Boehm, H.D., Jaya, A., and Limin, S. (2002) The amount of carbon released from peat and forest fires in Indonesia during 1997. Nature, 420, 61-65.
I. Monitoring of Smoke-Haze and Active Fires (land-use fires and wildfires)
Regional Smoke-Haze Monitoring
The Meteorological Division of the Singapore National Environment Agency provides a daily updated map showing active fires (land-use fires, wildfires), smoke haze and surface wind directions within the South East Asian region.
Latest map of surface winds and smoke haze/hot spots observed over cloud-free areas. (Source: http://app.nea.gov.sg/cms/htdocs/article.asp?pid=1195)
Fire Activity Monitoring in Borneo (Kalimantan, Sabah, Sarawak)
The Integrated Forest Fire Management Project (IFFM) in Samarinda provides regulary updated maps generated by NOAA-AVHRR showing active land-use fires and wildfires in Brunei and the Indonesian and Malaysian provinces on Borneo Island (website currently not functioning).
Latest fire overview map for Borneo: 15 December 2004 (Source: IFFM Fire Maps)
Fire Activity Monitoring in South Sumatra
The South Sumatra Forest Fire Management Project (SSFFMP) provides regular fire activity maps based on the products of the MODIS Rapid Response System.
II. Fire Weather and Fire Danger Monitoring and Early Warning
Regional Fire Weather
The Regional South East Asia Fire Danger Rating System (SEA FDRS) is a joint effort between the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) and the Malaysian Meteorological Service (MMS), supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Daily updated SEA Fire Danger Rating can be downloaded on the following website of MMS, and background information on the project can be found at the SEA FDRS Project website.
Latest example of a SEA FDRS product: The Fire Weather Index (FWI) values shown on the map are numerical ratings of fire intensity. Information from the Initial Spread Index (ISI) and Build Up Index (BUI) is combined to provide a numerical rating of fire intensity. This index is used to indicate the difficulty of fire control based on the head fire intensity and fire fighting capability.
Information on the Indonesian Fire Danger Rating System (Indonesian FDRS) is provided by the Indonesian Bureau of Meteorology and Geophysics (BMG) in Jakarta. The site provides information for fire managers working to prevent and control vegetation fires and smoke in Indonesia. This link points to the English version; a Bahasa Indonesian version can be found there as well: http://www.bmg.go.id:8080/fdrs/index_e.html.
Fire Weather Index (FWI) forecast for this week (left) and the predicted FWI total for next month (right) for the Western Pacific (1-3) and the Pacific Ocean (4-6) regions. The weekly total forecast and the monthly forecasted total refer to 00:00 hrs UTC, which is local noon at dateline (180° longitude). Forecast time is 12:00 hrs noon UTC (Greenwich) corresponding to local evening time in mainland and insular SE Asia. (Source: ECPC Fire Weather Index Forecast)
WWF Fire Bulletin for South East Asia
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has resumed the periodic publication of the Fire Bulleting a weekly information on fire, haze, and related issues in Indonesia.