May 4, 2012 - Fires in northern Australia

Fires in northern Australia

At the conclusion of the wet season in late autumn 2012, multiple fires burned across northern Western Australia, primarily in the Kimberly region. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image as it passed overhead on May 2, 2012.

Just the day before, on May 1, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology released rainfall figures for the just-completed wet season in north-west Western Australia. Rainfall was above average this season in both Kimberley and Pilbara (to the south), with Dampier Downs in Kimberley experiencing its wettest wet season on record, with more than 864 mm (34 in) of rain.

The dry season, which begins in May and ends in November, is a time of fire, and an abundant wet season, quite literally, can fuel the fire season. After abundant rain, vegetation becomes lush and growth luxuriant. When the temperature soars and moisture evaporates, plants become dry, turning into little more than standing tinder by the end of the season. Bushfires usually ignite late in the dry season, and can cause severe damage as they rage out of control.

In contrast, in the earliest days of the dry season the vegetation is still moist, and fires are slower to become unmanageable. Governments take advantage of these conditions to initiate prescribed burns, which are planned fires which are designed to reduce fuel load in the bush, in hopes of preventing major mega-fires later in the season. Given the time of the year, and the location of these fires, they are likely the result of prescribed burning.

Image Facts
Satellite: Aqua
Date Acquired: 5/2/2012
Resolutions: 1km ( B), 500m ( B), 250m ( B)
Bands Used: 1,4,3
Image Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC