That everything in Russia seems to happen on very big scales proved tragically true over the final days of July 2010. Fires, usually rare in the heartland, ravaged vast expanses of land in central Russia, south-east of Moscow. Hundreds of thousands of firefighters and Russian troops were involved; civilian (as well as firefighter casualties) were reported.
The fires were caused in part by extremely hot and dry weather persisting over the region. Large swings of temperature, cold in winter and hot in summer, are typical for such continental regions. However, the conditions currently being experienced are breaking records set over the past 30-40 years. A few days ago, it was reported that Moscow set an all-time high temperature record for the entire 130-year period of weather recordkeeping in the Russian capital city.
The fires have released enormous amounts of smoke, carbon monoxide, and other toxic gases, which were observable by NASA sensors on the Aqua and Aura Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites. The first image shown below is from July 31, 2010, and uses two different data types merged together: the foreground is an Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) visible wavelength image showing clouds and smoke from the fires, whereas the underlying layer depicts the AIRS carbon monoxide (CO) concentration final data retrieval (i.e., the data values released by the AIRS data processing system). The dark red colors show CO concentrations exceeding 120 ppb (parts per billion). The imagery was produced in near-real time; the KMZ data file format and GoogleEarth were used to merge the images. AIRS is on the EOS Aqua satellite.
Figure 1: Image of AIRS visible wavelength radiance data (foreground), showing clouds and smoke from Russian wildfires, overlying CO concentrations (background). Dark red indicates CO concentrations higher than 120 ppb. The "sawtooth" pattern in this image is characteristic of the way the fields-of-view of the AIRS visible band detectors are projected onto the Earth's surface at the edges of the scanning swath. This pattern can also usually be seen where the swaths of the visible band detectors overlap.
Aerosol optical depth (AOD) at 550 nanometers data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on the EOS Aqua satellite, showing the extent of smoke from central Russian wildfires. The MODIS data were averaged over the five-day period July 27-31, 2010, with Giovanni.
The "Haze" color palette and a customized scale were used for this image. The smoke aerosols appear to be rising into the atmosphere and drifting aloft away from the fires, so that the thickest aerosol cloud lies considerably northwest of the source of the smoke. This movement is also apparent in the AIRS image above.
Figure 3: Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) tropospheric column data from the Ozone Measuring Instrument (OMI) on the EOS Aura satellite, averaged over the period July 27-31, 2010. The NO2 generated by the wildfires south and southeast of Moscow is clearly visible. NO2 over many cities is also visible (e.g., Minsk, St. Petersburg, Tallinn); NO2 is a pollutant from combustion and vehicle exhaust, which interacts with sunlight to create irritating ground-level ozone. Interesting, the city of Helsinki, Finland, which is on the opposite shore of the narrow Gulf of Finland from Tallinn, Estonia, does not have a distinct NO2 feature associated with it; this could be due to differences in vehicle use and energy generation.
Near-real-time observations and imagery of events around the world, as seen in AIRS retrievals, are available here:
MODIS Daily Giovanni