Agricultural fires continue to burn across Indochina in March, 2014. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua captured a true-color image of fires and smoke across the region on March 7.
Clusters of red hotspots stretch from Burma (Myanmar) to Laos and south throughout Thailand. The hotspots indicate area where the thermal sensors on the MODIS instrument register temperatures higher than background. When combined with typical smoke, such areas indicate actively burning fires.
Fires are often deliberately set for agricultural management in many areas of the world. In this region, fire is used for pest and weed control, to prepare fields for planting, to open new land for planting, and to spur new growth of grass in pastureland. Burning the residue of old crops can be a quick and efficient way to prepare fields, as well as provides short-term fertilization from the ash.
Unfortunately, the positive effects of controlled fire are offset by the negative effects of smoke, which can be a powerful pollutant. The health of both livestock and humans can be harmed by inhaling smoke and particulates aerosolized by burning. People with respiratory problems, as well as the very old and very young, are at particular risk of harm.