Dozens of fires burned in the vegetated areas surrounding Lake Chad in mid-October 2021. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired at true-color image of the scene on October 12. Each red “hot spot” marks an area where the thermal bands on the MODIS instrument detected high temperatures. When combined with typical smoke, such as seen in this image, such hot spots are diagnostic for actively burning fire. The widespread nature, location, and time of year suggest these fires are agricultural in nature.
Located at the intersection of four different countries in the Sahel region of northern sub-Saharan Africa (Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon), Lake Chad was once one of the African continent’s largest body of fresh water. An increasingly warm and dry climate, land use change, and poor water management practices, among other factors, have led to substantial shrinkage of the lake.
Now a small remnant of its former size, the rapid and dramatic change in Lake Chad has brought substantial political and environmental instability the region. The life of the average resident has changed as well, with most households reporting primary income earned entirely from farming, with only 5% now relying on fishing. Small farms tend to practice traditional methods to manage land, including the use of fire to open new land for crops or pasturage, remove old crops residue from fields, remove wet-season overgrowth from fields, renew pasture, and prepare soil for planting. While individual fires are useful tools, wide-spread fire can negatively impact weather, climate, human and animal health, and natural resources.
While light gray smoke rises from many of the hot spots and is undoubtedly responsible for haze hanging over the region, the atmosphere also carries a veil of camel-colored dust, especially in the northern section of the image. This is most likely dust from the Bodele Depression, which is a sand-filled low area north of Lake Chad that provides the source of frequent dust storms in the area.