Indonesia: Remote Sensing of Fire and Smoke in Indonesia: Use of the NOAA AVHRR (IFFN No. 18 – January 1998)


Remote Sensing of Fire and Smoke in Indonesia:
Use of the NOAA AVHRR

(IFFN No. 18 – January 1998, p. 27-29)

The two accompanying Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) scenes have been selected out of several months of imagery in order to demonstrate the tremendous growth of fire activity during a three week period in August. On 5 August 1997, widespread fire activity is readily apparent in the AVHRR 1-km image. At this time fires are widespread throughout the entire island of Borneo, however the intensity of fire activity is notably greater in Indonesia. In the image of 5 August 1997, a large plume can be seen just to the west of 155 east longitude on the southern coastline.

Smaller plumes are not as visible in the greyscale images, but exist in great number in an area centred on the equator to the east of 100 east longitude and south of the Indonesian-Malaysian border. In essence, fire activity is very widespread on the southwestern side of the island with the exception of the highlands that stretch across the island’s interior. On 23 August 1997, not more than three weeks later, the number of fires and the amount of smoke has increased dramatically, signalling the beginning of the severe air quality problems in the region. Some of the heaviest burning is still occurring in the same region along the southern coast as noted on 5 August. The fire activity along the southern coast has increased dramatically and now spreads about 200 km westward. In the image of 23 August, which is largely cloud free across the southeast, the smoke pall from these fires is visible. The plume from the intense burning along the southern coast can be seen to drift along the eastern side of the island and extend out over the Celebes and Sulu Seas. Smoke is now filling many of the highland valleys adding to the air quality concerns in the region. The tremendous increase in fire activity in the month of August is truly indicative of the very dry conditions that existed, leading to the even more dramatic smoke palls that encompassed the area in September and to the international attention that would soon ensue.

The AVHRR imagery for 5 and 23 August 1997, have been enhanced as multichannel images using channels 1,2, and 4. Each colour image was printed in greyscale in order to maintain many of the contrast enhancements between water, land, smoke, and clouds. The use of any single channel would lose many of the contrast enhancements and would not yield a printed result nearly as good as obtained by this method.

Many of the methods that have been used to interrogate the NOAA imagery of the Indonesian fire event are those that have been used to evaluate burning in the boreal forests (Cahoon, et al. 1994, 1996; Stocks et al. 1996). The boreal forest research project continues at NASA Langley Research Center under the guidance of Donald Cahoon (NASA), Brian Stocks (Canadian Forest Service), and Johann Goldammer (Max Planck Institute for Chemistry). The goal of this research is to use the satellite data record of the last two decades to quantify fire activity and map fire patterns in the boreal forest of Russia.



Cahoon, D.R., Jr., B.J.Stocks, J.S.Levine, W.R.Cofer III, and J.A.Barber. 1996. Monitoring the 1992 forest fires in the boreal ecosystem using NOAA AVHRR satellite imagery. In: Biomass burning and global change (J.S.Levine, ed.), 795-801. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Stocks, B.J., D.R.Cahoon, Jr., W.R. Cofer III, and J.S. Levine. 1996. Monitoring large-scale fire behavior in Northeastern Siberia using NOAA AVHRR satellite imagery. In: Biomass burning and global change (J.S.Levine, ed.), 802-807. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Cahoon, D.R., Jr., B.J.Stocks, J.S.Levine, W.R.Cofer III, and J. M.Pierson. 1994. Satellite analysis of the severe 1987 forest fires in Northern China and Southeastern Siberia. J. Geophys. Res. 99 (D9), 18627-18638.

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Fig.1. NOAA AVHRR image of Borneo on 5 August 1997. The white pixels in the southern part of the island are active fires while the central and northern parts are partially covered by clouds. The lower image is a close up of South Kalimantan coast near Banjarmasin. Most smoke over South Kalimantan is from the “Megarice” project in which ca. 1 million hectares of wildland, predominantly peat swamp, are converted to rice fields.

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Fig.2. Same view on 23 August 1997. This image is largely cloud free across the southeast,
the smoke pall from the conversion fires and wildfires is visible.

Donald R.Cahoon
Senior Research Scientist
NASA/Langley Research Center
Atmospheric Sciences Division
Mail Stop 420
Hampton, VA 23681 USA

Fax: ++1-757-864-7996
Tel: ++1-757-864-5615

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