June 4, 2013 - Burn scars from previous years, Canada (false color)

Burn scars from previous years, Canada (false color)

Wildfire is the dominant disturbance in the boreal forest, and it can be a powerful, consuming force. Nearly-pristine boreal forest, much of which is managed as a natural resource, covers much of northern Canada, and wildfires consume hundreds of thousands of hectares in the region each year.

According to statistics from Environment Canada, almost all of the boreal forests of the province of northern Saskatchewan have burned since 1945, with the majority burning from the 1990’s through 2011. The Canadian 2011-2012 fire season was especially intense, and in Ontario alone, the fires consumed 635,274 hectares in 2011, which was the most area burned in that province in the last 50 years.

On May 24, 2013 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this false-color image as it flew over the boreal forests of northern Canada. MODIS imagery, especially the 7,2,1 band combination, is an excellent tool for assessing the presence and impact of fires, and this striking image details the vast expanse of fire in this region.

The five regions of Canada captured in this region include Northwest Territories (north), Nunavut (northeast), Alberta (west), Manitoba (east). Saskatchewan is in the center. In this false-color image, ice and snow are a bright blue, vegetation is bright green, and burned areas/open land appears tan.

Recent fires scars appear a dark brown, because vegetation has burned away leaving open land. Large areas of these recent burns can be seen in north central Saskatchewan. As years pass and vegetation regrows, the burn scars become lighter until, after many decades, the regeneration of trees create a young forest, which appears similar to the older growth forest from space.

Environment Canada has produced a map of fire activity in Saskatchewan from 1945 to 2012, broken down by decades and the 2010-2012 fire season. The comparison of that color-coded map with this MODIS image allows for a good comparison of scar vs. age. To view the Environment Canada map go to: http://www.environment.gov.sk.ca/adx/aspx/adxGetMedia.aspx?DocID=16f46006-d1fb-4f1b-a08e-b6a92a78554f&MediaID=3117bb56-4b8d-4af6-a44b-3b03c66ff1c1&Filename=Fire+History+1945-2012+-+MAP.pdf&l=English.

Image Facts
Satellite: Aqua
Date Acquired: 5/24/2013
Resolutions: 1km ( B), 500m ( B), 250m ( B)
Bands Used: 7,2,1
Image Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC