A blanket of smoke from fires in Siberia is so huge it can be seen from nearly 1 million miles away in space

By Tom Yulsman | July 22, 2016 7:14 pm

It’s a tad faint, but a smudge of smoke is clearly visible in the image below, captured by a spacecraft in deep space


This image was acquired by the EPIC camera on NOAA’s DSCOVR spacecraft when it was 975,074 miles from Earth on July 21, 2016. Bluish-gray wildfire smoke over Siberia can be seen within the circled area. Make sure to click the image to open it in a new window, and then click on it again to enlarge it. (Source: http://epic.gsfc.nasa.gov/ )

The Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft hovers between the Earth and Sun, keeping a constant eye on our planet’s sunlit side from about a million miles away.

Yet even from that extremely distant vantage point (called Lagrange Point 1), DSCOVR’S camera was able to discern a broad blanket of smoke from wildfires raging in Siberia.

Look for the smoke within the circled area in the image above, acquired by the EPIC camera on July 21, 2016. Click the image to open it in a new window, and then click on it again for a close up view. The smoke is clearly visible.

How much of Siberia is burning?

Despite all the smoke, the Russian government says burning in not terribly extensive. On July 18th, it reported that 77 fires were burning on 45 square miles of territory, an area smaller than Washington D.C. For the year to date, the government says 2,583 square miles have burned.

But Grigory Kuksin of Greenpeace Russia, quoted in a story in Phys.Org, says the government is playing down the extent of the burning. By his accounting, 27,027 square miles have burned so far this year — an area larger than West Virginia.

It’s difficult to know what the precise number is. But given the extensive smoke blanket — which stretches across at least 2,000 miles of Siberia from west to east — I’m guessing that the figure is closer to the estimate from Greenpeace.


Most of Asia is visible in this image from the Suomi NPP spacecraft on July 21, 2016. Smoke from wildfires in Siberia extends across at least 2,000 miles of Russia from west to east. Suomi NPP orbits 512 miles from Earth. (Source: NASA Worldview)

According to Kuksin, Russia’s boreal forests are second only to Earth’s tropical forests in absorbing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas implicated in global warming. Warmer and drier conditions are contributing to more extensive burning, releasing large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, and reducing the forests’ ability to withdraw some of it back through normal plant respiration.

Siberia isn’t alone in its wildfire woes. Canada has seen more than 1,500 square miles go up in flames this year. One fire destroyed a large portion of Fort McMurray and resulted in the costliest disaster in Canadian history.

SEE ALSO: Satellite images show Fort McMurray Canada under assault from the rampaging wildfire nicknamed “the beast”

And after months of record-setting warmth culminating in extremely high temperatures, wildfires exploded across Alaska, ignited by some of the 45,570 lightning bolts that struck the state’s forests between July 13 and 16th.

EPIC’s view of Earth

As someone who looks at satellite imagery almost every day, I have to say that I was impressed by the ability of DSCOVR’s EPIC camera to see what is happening in Siberia right now. It does it by teaming a relatively modest 4 megapixel sensor (half the megapixels of the iPhone 6 in my pocket) with a Cassegrain reflecting telescope.

I’ll finish up with some additional imagery:


Satellite image of smoke from Siberian wildfires. (Source: NASA Worldview)

This first one is from the Suomi NPP spacecraft, which orbits 512 miles above Earth’s surface. It is a closer view than the one higher up in this post. Make sure to click on the image to open it in a new window, and then click on it again to zoom in close.


Animation of natural- and false-color satellite images of some of the fires burning in Siberia. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

The animation above consists of a natural-color image from Suomi NPP, and a false color image from NASA’s Terra satellite, both on July 21. The orange tones in the false-color image are indicative of areas where active burning is occurring.

The body of water visible in the upper left corner is the Gulf of Ob, a large inlet indenting northwestern Siberia along the Kara Sea.

  • http://deathlytribute.tumblr.com/ Miguel Domínguez

    Why is nobody talking about this?

    • Brian Kern

      Too busy trying to determine if Trump or Clinton is worse.

      • Cowicide

        I supported Bernie Sanders and saving our habitat on Earth. I really wish more self-described liberals had joined that effort instead of ignorantly and rabidly propping up yet another corporatist like Clinton.

        • Brian Kern

          Bernie is great but I don’t think the changes he was proposing are anything close to what is necessary to redirect our current trajectory. I don’t think many people are willing to realistically consider what really needs to happen. All the people that are proposing the necessary changes are labeled as extremists and nutjobs. Things are far worse than what is being put forth through the media and even that is being laughed at by conservatives. And even a lot of liberals are putting their faith in technology to save us. It’s a bit unsettling but it is what it is. A lot of people are going to die very miserable deaths in the latter half of this century, maybe even myself. I’m not sure if anything can be done about that at this point. So I just do what I can, try to live a simple life and enjoy what good years I have left.

          • Jim

            I agree with your conclusions, but have a big issue with the way solutions are implemented, via punitive pricing only. What that means is that all of us not of the 1% gods and goddesses get denied access to most things that make life pleasant. This is happening all the time. As a recent example, in order to protect the ecology of the Galapagos Islands, the solution proposed is to raise prices on tourists until demand drops off, thus blocking access to, you guessed it, us inferiors, in favor of the 1%. I agree that something must be done to lower human impact on the Galapagos Islands, but there must be a more equitable way.

          • Brian Kern

            Jim, I agree. Many will disagree but I think it’s a problem with capitalism. Maybe there are variations that could be more equitable but I think the incentives in capitalism tend to be too perverse for a sustainable model of living. I think it’s long overdue that we stop measuring our economies by sheer quantitative output and look to qualitative output. As EF Schumacher said in Small is Beautiful, “the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption.”

            I’m not overly optimistic but I hold out a sliver of hope. Maybe after enough disaster strikes people will be willing to consider other options.

          • Mike Foxworth

            What your discussion ignores is that price incentives are EFFECTIVE. Unimplemented “solutions” leave the problem unaddressed. Moral high ground still leaves our our great grand children bathed in sweat,

          • Brian Kern

            Nobody said it wasn’t effective, just incredibly unjust. Catering to shitbag millionaires/billionaires that live wildly unsustainable lives is not helping matters. Just because people think that restricting things based on price is less of a freedom restriction than outright forbidding it, doesn’t make it so. Too many people have grand delusions of becoming fabulously wealthy and don’t realize the game is rigged against them. Especially in today’s economy. Price restrictions are no more just than simply telling people, no you cannot go here no matter how much you pay. We can sit here and say things like, “Well,the world just isn’t fair.” But I call BS. We have a reasonable amount of control over fairness, we just like to make excuses to further our own benefit. (And to the detriment of our great grandchildren.)

          • http://oldephartte.blogspot.ca/ opit

            Only if the projections mean something. GIGO still operates even when august bodies claim their ability to predict the future.

          • http://oldephartte.blogspot.ca/ opit

            “All the people that are proposing the necessary changes are labeled as extremists and nutjobs.” Does that sound like a ‘consensus’ to you ? It sounds to me as if ‘necessary changes’ are instead often taken as ‘unrealistic proposals’ all the way through to ‘ solving unproven problems’.. Are you willing to assume that the agents of global murder are motivated by altruism rather than the usual drive to exercise control over energy and resources ?

          • Brian Kern

            I see what you’re saying. I think the problem is people in power don’t have any desire to give up their lifestyle or the power they currently have (which partially stems from said lifestyle). The proposals are only unrealistic if you have the attitude of “you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead hands.”

            And most of the world’s population not in power has no idea how dire things are. And many more suffer from severe cognitive dissonance. Existential threats tend to make human beings behave funny.

            I think nothing worthwhile will be done and a bottleneck will be arriving. I’m not going to guess precisely when, but unless we miraculously find a new source of energy, I’d be surprised if it’s farther out than 100 years. But I suspect I’ll see the beginning of it toward the end of my life (I’m 34 now).

          • http://oldephartte.blogspot.ca/ opit

            There is the will to solve problems and a way to solve problems. I agree energy supply is a necessity for a technologically advanced society. This fellow first caught my eye in November 2006 while I was looking at the opinions of people involved in energy supply. You know, the ones so demonized they supposedly have our destruction in mind. And lo and behold, later posts are on a thorium reactor. At any rate, he thought programs to solve problems ought to have certain characteristics – so he kindly provided a sample. http://ergosphere.blogspot.ca/2006_11_01_archive.html

          • Cowicide

            Bernie is great but I don’t think the changes he was proposing are anything close to what is necessary to redirect our current trajectory.

            Er, he was following the will of the majority of the public. Most Americans want to switch over to more sustainable energy. The only thing stopping us is the fossil fuel industry lobby-system that puts up artificial walls against it.

            We were able to put together a Manhattan Project to build nuclear weapons in an amazingly short amount of time. We were able to put a man on the Moon. We’ve been able to overcome MASSIVE logistical and financial hurdles to start and continue wars in the Middle East.

            We have the know-how and resources to make a speedy transition to more sustainable energy. Don’t let them manufacture your consent to think otherwise.

        • http://oldephartte.blogspot.ca/ opit

          It isn’t a matter of propping up a corporatist – and I have seen things about Clinton being involved in promoting the usual operations of Murder Inc. that are very unfunny – as rejecting the idea that predicting the future is a done deal. This chap should be required watching as he proves ‘many a truth is spoken in jest’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BB0aFPXr4n4

          • nik

            Carlin was very targeted on the bullshit of politics.

          • Brian Kern

            As usual, he’s 100% right, the planet is going to be fine. Human beings are the ones that are fucked. You don’t need to predict a whole lot more than that. I guess some would rather our extinction be from some external event completely outside our control, rather than committing collective suicide, as we are now. But I suppose in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter. And nobody listens anyway so I’ve given up trying to point out how fucked we are. Just enjoy the ride.

          • Cowicide

            I love Carlin, however, he was just a funny satirist and not an expert on climate change nor political science, etc. — He obviously meant for us to take his humor with a heaping of salt.

          • http://oldephartte.blogspot.ca/ opit

            What constitutes humour is the recognition of situational dysfunction. Pratfalls are uncomplicated.But his commentary rarely needs clarification. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuimRdB-kc4 Despite the Global Warming title his thoughts relate to the inability of regulation and policy to ‘fix’ basic problems through not merely errors in assumptions but political interests interfering with practical remediation. Predator depletion ( yes, that means people too ) http://www.independent.org/publications/policy_reports/detail.asp?id=6 led to overpopulation of grazing animals https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/sellars/chap5g.htm highlighting the problems of unitended consequences. Nor is public wisdom on the rise. http://www.heritage.org/events/2016/07/failure-the-federal-misedukation-fo-americas-children In such a situation the liberal / conservative labels assist in confounding the issue, which transcends partisan epithets.

      • nik

        Trump is probably a decoy, put there so that H.C. gets to be the next puppet president.

        • Brian Kern

          A hard thing to prove but I don’t think it’s entirely outside the realm of possibility.

          • nik

            If you look at the recent election of a Labour party leader in Britain, Corbyn was put up as a candidate, merely to make the election look balanced.
            He won the election!
            You could get Trump, as the next president for the same reason.
            However, if it looks like he may win, expect some skulduggery, like the Bush election, or another JFK event maybe.

  • Overburdened_Planet

    The world is burning.


  • nik

    One of the characteristics of the ending of the interglacial period, and a return to full ice age is, extensive forest fires.
    The forest fires are the preliminary cooling agent, as they reduce sunlight reaching the surface.

    The hotter climate causes increased evaporation, and so greater rain, and snowfalls. The snow reflects sunlight, and also then causes cooling, Each year the melt back is a reduced, so the heating effect of the sun is also reduced. The effect is asymptotic.

    Some of the highest snowfalls on record have occurred in recent years, in both the southern and northern hemispheres.

    The change over, according to deep sea and deep lake core drillings, can occur in 20 – 50 years.

    • http://oldephartte.blogspot.ca/ opit

      I’ll grant you that is an idea I have not heard before. Not that any credibility is gained by that.

      • nik

        During the 10,000 years interglacial period, the nutrients in the soil left by the retreat of glaciers is gradually washed down through the soil until it is beyond the reach of the tree roots,
        As the forests begin to suffer, the trees release less water into the atmosphere. This water normally cools the climate. Forests have their own micro climates. As their effect reduces, so the climate heats up. Deforestation has the same effect.
        As a correlation, cites that have few trees, are usually significantly hotter in summer than the surrounding countryside.
        As the forests dry, they become more susceptible to fires, caused by lightning, or careless humans, and when they do catch fire, they burn more ferociously, and spread more widely, and raoidly.
        Unusually extensive forest fires have been occurring worldwide recently.
        Another symptom is increased volcanic and earthquake activity, due to the polar glacier melt which changes the loads on the tectonic plates, causing them to move as pressures are changed. Volcanic output also tends to cause atmospheric cooling.
        Extreme rainfall and consequent flooding have been increasing worldwide recently, and have been predicted to continue to do so.
        All are characteristics of the end of the interglacial period, and return to full glaciation.

        • http://oldephartte.blogspot.ca/ opit

          Or they could be related to the current alignment of planets along the plane of the ecliptic and tidal stresses. Regardless, when you have as your baseline an era of unprecedented placidity, anything resembling more usual conditions will appear quite insane.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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