Fires Heat Up as El Nino Develops – Growing Health Concerns as Haze Worsens
Indonesia fire alerts spiked to their highest level of the year yesterday, amid forecasts that the developing El Nino may be even stronger than the 1997-98 warming that led to Indonesia’s most catastrophic fire season. With 461 high confidence* fire alerts, today’s count is the highest since the peak of over 1,000 fire alerts reached on November 1, 2014. As the El Nino develops, even larger fire outbreaks are likely to develop.
For the week ending September 2, 2015, 50 percent of the high confidence fire alerts are occurring on peat lands. Fires on peat (soil with a high proportion of partially decomposed organic material) are of particular concern because these fires are difficult to extinguish and produce great amounts of smoke and haze, contributing to poor air quality in Singapore and Malaysia, but especially within Sumatra, Indonesia. Haze is causing flights to be diverted and resulting an increase in the incidence of haze-related health issues. Air quality readings were especially poor in Medan, with air quality in the unhealthy to hazardous range over the last 2 days, and in Pekanbaru where very unhealthy air occurred on Thursday (data from BMKG via AQICN). Peat lands occur in much of eastern lowland Sumatra and along coastal areas of West and Central Kalimantan.
Figure 2. PORTION OF FIRES OCCURRING ON PEATLAND
The largest clusters of fires, displayed in the map below, are happening in Jambi and South Sumatra Provinces while additional fires are occurring in Central and East Kalimantan and in Riau. Riau Province has had high numbers of fires in the past, particularly in the fire outbreak of June 2013, but is no longer leading the nation in fires. The districts with the most fire alerts are Tanjung Jabung Timur in Sumatra, with 178 high confidence fire alerts, and Ketapang in Kalimantan, with 126 (Table 1). Fire hotspots continue to occur in Indonesia’s protected areas, with 10% of fire alerts (148 fires) occurring within protected areas. Fires continue to occur within Tesso Nilo National Park, mainly in areas already cleared of forest. Active fires are also occurring within Tanjung Puting National Park, Berbak National Park, Sembilang National Park, Dangku Wildlife Reserve, and along the perimeter of Kerinci Seblat National Park.
Figure 3. FIRE HEATMAP
WEEK OF AUGUST 26 TO SEPTEMBER 2, 2015
Table 1. DISTRICTS WITH THE GREATEST NUMBER OF FIRE ALERTS
High resolution images acquired by Digital Globe reveal areas where some of the largest fire outbreaks are occurring, within South Sumatra and Jambi Provinces. The images below, captured with the Worldview-3 Satellite, show active fires within a peat swamp in a timber concession. Both as a false-color image showing smoke plumes from active fires, burned areas in black and healthy vegetation in red (left) and as a short wave infrared (SWIR) image that detects heat, displaying actively burning areas in orange, yellow and white, revealing the size and shape of the ongoing fire.
The images above show a concession managed by PT Dyera Hutani Lestari: (-1.278284, 103.924176). This Jelutung (swamp rubber) plantation on degraded peatland suffered massive fires in 1997 and 2003 due to dry conditions and peatland drainage, but is also burning again now. Now is the time for law enforcement agencies to use the satellite-based alerts, high-resolution images from Digital Globe, and reports from people on the ground to locate and extinguish the fires. Policy-makers should also be examining which areas are suffering the worst in order to determine where to allocate scare resources. You can also help, by visiting http://fires.globalforestwatch.org/ and sharing information on the location of fire alerts. You can post your tweets on the GFW map, submit stories from the ground, and share with your networks.