Topic 4e – Monitoring human impact on fires and enforcing policy

Wildfires have been getting worse in recent years due to human activity. In California for example, 2017 was at the time the worst season ever for wildfires. There were a recorded 9,133 fires that burned through more than 1 million acres, including five of the 20 most destructive wildland-urban interface fires in the state’s history. The following 2018 wildfire season has now surpassed 2017, with a total of 7,579 fires burning an area of 1,667,855 acres, which at the time, resulted in California experiencing the worst air quality in the world.

In China, most fires are agricultural fires that are started purposely by humans. These fires release PM 2.5 into the atmosphere which can travel large distances. This has problems for human health and visibility in the effected areas. Data from the VIIRs instrument, as well as ground-based measurements, are used to monitor these emissions, and help guide government policy so they can regulate agricultural fires.

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  • Tianran Zhang

Don’t forget you can download the video, transcript and take any quizzes available with the links on the right.

Interactive Apps


Satellite derived PM2.5 trends in China, 2000 - 2014

PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers. PM2.5 levels have been increasing from 2000 in China (red line). A decrease jump can be found after the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to the environmental protection policies. However, a very obvious increasing trend can be found both before and after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Fine Aerosol Pollution (PM2.5) Over China

PM2.5 data over China aquired from 2008-2010, based on data from the Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) instrument on the Terra satellite, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on the Terra and Aqua satellites, and a chemical transport model called GEOS-Chem.

Measuring Emission Factors (EF)

Equipment and measurements taking place of emission factors in East China

East China agricultural area burning

The image on the left is satellite image taken on 1st October of an agricultural area in East China. On the right is the same area 6 days later taken with a drone, showing burnt areas. Red circles are the locations of a new small fire detection algorithm (5th Oct 2015), proving that real fires are being detected.