Wildfires break out in the boreal forests of eastern Russia most summers, but last year was particularly bad.
This image from the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite was taken on 28 September, and shows blazes that had plagued Russia’s Irkutsk Oblast since July. It is thought that drier conditions associated with warmer weather – with June 2016 being the hottest on record – contributed to the unusually large number of fires.
A state of emergency was imposed on this area during the wildfires.
Zooming in, we can see the fires appearing like small orange threads on the left and bottom of the image. Smoke billows from each fire and spreads across the landscape, becoming trapped in the valleys.
Another visible feature is the Lena River snaking northeast.
Boreal forests can be seen across the landscape. The boreal forest ecosystem, exclusive to the northern hemisphere, spans Russia, northern Europe, Canada and Alaska, comprising interrelated habitats made up of forests, lakes, wetlands, rivers and tundra. These forests, including their soil, store a third more carbon stocks per hectare as tropical forests, making them one of the most significant carbon stores in the world.
While optical satellites like Sentinel-2 or Sentinel-3 can systematically monitor forests for change, such as from logging or other human activities, spaceborne radars can accurately measure forest biomass and how it varies.
The dedicated Biomass satellite is currently being built, and is set to provide an easier and more accurate way to monitor this precious resource regularly to further our knowledge of the role played by forests in the carbon cycle.
This image is featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
Credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO