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2006 Indonesian forest fires worst since 1998

2006 Indonesian forest fires worst since 1998

2006 Indonesian forest fires worst since 1998
Fires in Indonesia were worsened by el Niño says NASA
March 1, 2007

NASA has linked el Niño to the worst fires in Indonesia since the 1997-1998 conflagrations that burned nearly 25 million acres (10 million hectares) of land across the country.

El Niño is an ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that causes drier conditions in much of Indonesia. Historically its arrival has been welcomed as time of bounty when mast fruiting of Dipterocarp trees spawn a boom in wildlife activity and bring prosperity to indigenous seed collectors. However in recent years, large-scale land use change in Indonesia, especially on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, mean that el Niño is increasingly associated with massive forests fires that spread a choking haze and economic concerns across Southeast Asia.

While the 2006 el Niño was relatively weak, increased agricultural burning by plantation owners, resulted in massive forest fires across Borneo and Sumatra and some of the highest deforestation rates (more than 30,000 square kilometers or 7.4 million acres) ever recorded in Indonesian. As the forests burned, NASA satellites tracked the smoke spreading from Indonesia into the Indian Ocean during the fall of last year.

The large plume of pollution from Indonesian fires in November 2006 is clearly visible in this global average map of atmospheric carbon monoxide as measured by the Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument. High levels of carbon monoxide pollution are shown in pink; lower levels in blue. Credit: NCAR/University of Toronto

Peaks of Indonesian carbon monoxide pollution (top) coincide with the warm phases of El Niño (bottom) over the past seven years. The inter-annual variability of atmospheric carbon monoxide at an altitude of about 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) was measured by the Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument. The El Niño warm phase conditions led to a reduction in rainfall and an increase in fire occurrence over Indonesia (red). Credit: NASA/NCAR/University of Toronto

“Although the current El Niño is rather weak compared to that of 1997-98, we have found dramatic increases in wildfire activity and corresponding pollution.” said David Edwards, project leader of the Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite which tracked the pollution caused by the wildfires.

Edwards and him team identified a distinct spike in carbon monoxide levels across much of the region. Carbon monoxide produces smog and can cause detrimental health affects.

“MOPITT is an especially valuable tool because it monitors carbon monoxide, a good indicator of pollution from combustion that remains in the atmosphere for several weeks, often traveling vast distances,” explained Edwards. “Fires also produce large relative changes in atmospheric carbon monoxide levels that are detected quite well by satellites, so that we can easily assess the impact of fires on air quality and pollution levels.”

Beyond the release of carbon monoxide, Indonesian forest fires produce large amounts of carbon dioxide, thus causing long term climate impact. By some estimates burning in Indonesia can contribute up to 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in peak years, making Indonesia the third largest greenhouse gas polluter, despite having only the world’s 22nd largest economy.

More information

Borneo, a look into a disappearing world. Borneo, the third largest island in the world, was once covered with dense rainforests. With swampy coastal areas fringed with mangrove forests and a mountainous interior, much of the terrain was virtually impassable and unexplored. Headhunters ruled the remote parts of the island until a century ago. In the 1980s and 1990s Borneo underwent a remarkable transition. Its forests were leveled at a rate unparallel in human history. Borneo’s rainforests went to industrialized countries like Japan and the United States in the form of garden furniture, paper pulp and chopsticks. Initially most of the timber was taken from the Malaysian part of the island in the northern states of Sabah and Sarawak. Later forests in the southern part of Borneo, an area belonging to Indonesia and known as Kalimantan, became the primary source for tropical timber. Today the forests of Borneo are but a shadow of those of legend and those that remain are highly threatened by the emerging biofuels market, specifically, oil palm.

Forest fires result from government failure in Indonesia. Indonesia is burning again. Smoke from fires set for land-clearing in South Kalimantan (Borneo) and Sumatra are causing pollution levels to climb in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok, resulting in mounting haze-related health problems, traffic accidents, and associated economic costs. The country’s neighbors are again clamoring for action but ultimately the fires will burn until they are extinguished by seasonal rains in coming months.

This article used quotes an information from NASA and prior articles.

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