Earth observation images reveal extent of fierce Siberian forest fires

Siberian fires

Stunning satellite images show the recent gigantic hells that devastated one of the coldest regions on the planet. Last month, the fires burning across Siberia – known for its cold, harsh winters – would have been bigger than all the fires burning across the world combined.

The images were released by the National Earth Observation Center (NCEO) on the occasion of Earth Observation Week (September 6-10).

An extreme heat wave coupled with a historic drought has apparently resulted in 10 times more fires in the Yakutia region than usual. Record levels of carbon dioxide were released as smoke from raging forest fires traveled 3,000 km (1,800 miles) to reach the North Pole for the first time in recorded history.

Space Park Leicester-based NCEO experts say the images show how data from Earth observation instruments can be used to monitor changes in land use and urbanization over time, which can help improve the planning and potential prevention of large-scale forest fire management around the world.

NCEO scientist Dr David Moore said: “Fires in Siberia happen every year, but this particular year stood out in terms of the number and intensity of fires.

His group used the University of Leicester’s (ULIRS) Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer (IASI) recovery program, funded and developed by the NCEO, to plot the extent of the pollution in August 2021 against an “average” month of August in 2018.

“Satellite data sets have shown that huge amounts of smoke, aerosols and polluting trace gases from these fires are being transported to the Arctic. More than 800 megatonnes of carbon dioxide were produced by the fires, doubling the record set in 2020.

“With climate change, it is not clear whether the number of individual fires will increase or decrease around the world, but what we are seeing in recent years, in many parts of the world, is that the intensity of the fires and the area burned by fire increases.

CO image

“The European Space Agency‘s Multispectral Imager (MSI) on Sentinel-2 is an excellent tool for post-fire surveillance. The 10m spatial resolution of MSI data allows visualization of areas of fire activity, aiding disaster mapping and humanitarian relief efforts. Fires can be tracked over several different days, and techniques exist to use the different wavelengths of MSI data to classify the severity of burns from fires.

According to the Russian Forest Agency, this year’s fires devastated more than 14 million hectares, making it the second worst fire season since the turn of the century.
Improvements in space imagers have led to major improvements in spatial resolution, allowing experts to observe changes to the Earth’s surface faster and more accurately.

David added: “Space imagers have a long history, one example being the pioneering Landsat program which began in 1972 and has since provided repetitive multispectral data of the Earth’s surface.

“Over the past decade or so, the most significant changes I have observed in space imager technology have been the improvement in spatial resolution from 60m at the start of the Landsat program to 15m in the newest imager. Landsat-8.

After the launch of a second Sentinel-2 in 2017, repeat coverage was reduced to five days, which helps improve the odds of a cloud-free overpass if one studies the processes at the surface of Earth. A third Sentinel-2 satellite is due to be launched in 2023, which will further reduce revisit time.

The newly headquartered NCEO at Space Park Leicester processes and analyzes large amounts of data generated by satellites, as well as aircraft and ground assets to monitor and understand the impacts of global and regional fires.

Professor John Remedios of the Earth Observation Science Group at the University of Leicester and director of the National Center for Earth Observation, added: next generation of fire-related satellite missions. Convening the global community and collaboration is an absolute imperative to meet the challenges of a changing world.

To learn more about the NCEO events taking place during Earth Observation Week, visit

To learn more about the National Earth Observation Center (NCEO), visit:

To find out more about Space Park Leicester, visit:

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