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El Nino, drought, forest fires, air pollution, and NASA

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  • David
    NASA TIES EL NINO INDUCED DROUGHT TO RECORD AIR POLLUTION FROM FIRES Scientists using NASA satellite data have found the most intense global pollution from
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 2, 2003
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      Scientists using NASA satellite data have found the most intense
      global pollution from fires occurred during droughts caused by El
      Nino. The most intense fires took place in 1997-1998 in association
      with the strongest El Nino event of the 20th century.

      Bryan Duncan, Randall Martin, Amanda Staudt, Rosemarie Yevich and
      Jennifer Logan, from Harvard University, used data observed by NASA's
      Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) satellite to quantify the
      amount of smoke pollution from biomass burning over 20 years.

      "It's important to study biomass burning, because those fires produce
      as much pollution as use of fossil fuels. Most of the pollution from
      fires is produced in the tropics, while pollution from fossil fuel use
      occurs in North America, Europe and Asia," Logan said. One of the
      missions of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, which partially funded
      the research, is to learn how the Earth system responds to natural and
      human-induced changes, such as droughts and worldwide fires caused by
      El Nino. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md, developed
      the smoke data, the unique Aerosol Index product from the TOMS

      The Harvard scientists recently published a study in the Journal of
      Geophysical Research – Atmospheres that describes how they combined
      the Aerosol Index data from TOMS with Scanning Radiometer and Sounder
      (ASTR) fire count data from the European Space Agency's European
      Remote Sensing-2 satellite.

      The study assessed the effects of the 1997-1998 El Nino events on
      global biomass burning. They concluded biomass burning around the
      world was unusually high during the 1997-1998 El Nino, greater than in
      any other period between 1979 and 2000. The amount of carbon monoxide
      emitted in 1997 and 1998 was about 30 percent higher than the amount
      emitted from worldwide motor vehicle and fossil fuel combustion.

      "We found that fires typically produce the most pollution in
      Southeast Asia in March, in northern Africa in January and February,
      and in southern Africa and Brazil in August and September," Logan
      said. During the El Nino of 1997-1998, Indonesia, Mexico, and Central
      America experienced extreme droughts, and forest fires raged out of

      The smoke from the fires in Mexico and Central America was blown
      northward in May 1998, worsening air-quality and reducing visibility
      over much of the eastern United States. The fires in Indonesia burned
      tropical forests over an area equivalent to the size of southern New
      England and released enormous amounts of pollutants. The team
      estimated the Indonesian fires produced about 170 million metric tons
      of carbon monoxide, which equals about one-third of the carbon
      monoxide annually released from fossil fuels.

      Biomass burning is the combustion of both living and dead vegetation.
      It includes fires generated both by lightning and human activity.
      Humans are responsible for about 90 percent of biomass burning, with
      only a small percentage of natural fires contributing to the total
      amount of vegetation burned.

      For more information about the study and images on the
      Internet, visit:


      To see the TOMS satellite Web site, visit:


      For more information about El Nino events on the Internet,


      For more information about NASA and Earth Science programs on
      the Internet, visit:

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