The fires that raged across southern Africa this August
and September produced a thick "river of smoke" over the
region. NASA-supported studies currently underway on the event will
contribute to improved air pollution policies in the region and a better
understanding of its impact on climate change.
This year the southern African fire season peaked in early September.
The region is subject to some of the highest levels of biomass burning
in the world. The heaviest burning was in western Zambia, southern
Angola, northern Namibia, and northern Botswana. Some of the blazes had
fire fronts 20 miles long that lasted for days.
In this animation, multiple fires are burning across the southern
part of the African continent in September 2000. The fires, indicated
in red, were observed by the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer
(AVHRR) instrument on board the NOAA-14 satellite. The fires generated
large amounts of heat-absorbing aerosols (the dark haze), which were
observed with the Earth Probe Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS)
These observations were collected as part of a NASA-supported field
campaign called SAFARI 2000 (Southern African Regional Science
Initiative). The recent six-week "dry-season" portion of this
experiment was planned to coincide with the annual fires. SAFARI 2000
planners tracked the changing location of fires with daily satellite
maps provided by researchers at NASAs Goddard Space Flight
"Every year African biomass burning greatly exceeds the scale of
the fires seen this year in the western United States," says Robert
Swap of the University of Virginia, one of the campaign organizers.
quot;But the southern African fire season we just observed may turn out
to be an extreme one even by African standards. It was amazing how
quickly this region went up in flames."
The thick haze layer from these fires was heavier than campaign
participants had seen in previous field studies in the Amazon Basin and
during the Kuwati oil fires. The haze aerosols sampled were more
heat-absorbing than expected, which means the haze layer may have a
significant warming influence on the regions atmosphere.