Spring fires continued to burn across eastern Russia in early May, 2012, filling the skies of eastern Asia with a thick blanket of smoke. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite captured this true-color image on May 17. Russia occupies the northern section of this image, Mongolia lies in the southwest and China in the southeast.
According to Zeenews.com, on May 17 Russian officials announced that twenty one forest fires were burning on a total of over 3,000 hectares, with 2,600 hectares blazing in Buryatia and almost 500 hectares in Khabarovsk territory. Three new fires were seen in Tunkinsky National Park in the past 24 hours alone. In Buryatia, over 400 forest fires have burned more than 30,000 hectares of forest since the beginning of spring this year.
The red “hotspots” seen in the image mark areas where the MODIS instrument has detected thermal anomalies, or places where the temperature is higher than the background. Combined with smoke, these thermal anomalies are strong indicators of fire.
The fires are numerous, but the smoke is extremely heavy throughout the region. Fires may produce large amounts of smoke when they burn moist fuel. It can be speculated that the melting of the thick winter snows has moistened the leaf litter on the ground. The high temperatures of the large wildfires may have ignited the damp organic matter lying on the forest floor, creating copious amounts of smoke as they burn as ground fires. Whatever the cause of the heavy smoke, the entire region lies under a gray veil, and smoke has been seen as far north as the Bering Sea.