On May 14, 2016, an Expedition 47 crew member aboard the International Space Station, flying approximately 240 miles (386 kilometers) above Earth, captured this view of smoke billowing from fires burning near Fort McMurray, a settlement in the Canadian province of Alberta. The fires are burning near the Athabasca oil sands, one of the largest reserves of oil in the world.
The Athabasca River is visible near the upper right of the image, separating two major oil sands operations. Oil producers remove the sand in big, open-pit mines, which appear tan and irregularly shaped. The sand is rinsed with hot water to separate the oil, and then the sand and wastewater are stored in “tailings ponds,” which have smooth green surfaces in the photograph.
Two days after this image was taken, winds shifted and began to drive the fire north toward the oil sands. As of May 18, the fire had forced the evacuation of thousands of workers from the oil sands and destroyed at least one work camp.
Astronaut photograph ISS-E-117073 was acquired on May 14, 2016, with a Nikon D4 camera using a 500 millimeter lens and provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 47 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Adam Voiland.