JRC monitors forest fires in Russia and quantifies effects
The Institute for Environment and Sustainability of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC-IES) has analysed the occurrence and distribution of forest fires in the European part of Russia, since the beginning of July 2010. A series of maps shows the location of fires occurring from 1st of July, and notably during the more intense last two weeks, until the 12th of August 2010. It was quantified, how these fires potentially affected the areas impacted by the Chernobyl accident of the 26th of April 1986. The JRC-IES also analysed the impact of the recent fires on land cover and peat soils in this area.
The fire danger in the Moscow region estimated by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), hosted by the JRC-IES, showed persistently high fire risks since mid-June 2010. Extreme temperatures and cumulative drought caused extreme fire danger conditions that facilitated the ignition and subsequent spread of fires. This lead to a large number of fires that burnt simultaneously and produced large smoke clouds that continued to affect e.g., the city of Moscow and other nearby urban areas.
From satellite imagery, the total burnt area in this region has been estimated to be, on the 12th of August 2010, ca. 763,000 ha, which is shown in Figure 1.
Fig.1: Fires in Eastern Europe from July 1st to August 12th - Burned areas and current active fires overlaid on the latest MODIS satellite image
The JRC-IES also addressed the question whether the forest fires happened in areas that had received deposition after the Chernobyl reactor accident in 1986. In the aftermath of this accident, the JRC - working with counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus - produced a detailed atlas mapping Caesium-137 depositions normalised to the 10th May 1986 . The fire perimeters estimated from current satellite observations have been combined with this map of Caesium-137 depositions. The overlay showed that most of the fires up to the 12th of August occurred in areas where Caesium-137 deposition levels were low to medium. The following table shows a comparison of the area of fires occurring since the beginning of July within each deposition level referring to 1986:
|Radon class||(kBq/m2)* as per 1986||Burned area now in 2010|
*) kBq means kilo Becquerel per square meter
It must be noted though, that Caesium-137 has a half-life of around thirty years, so overall values have almost halved since the accident in 1986. In addition, the present chemical form of the Caesium in the region is unknown as is the ways, in which it may have moved through the local environment in the past 24 years. Current Caesium levels are thus uncertain. As there is no reliable source term, any estimates as to how much Caesium would be re-suspended in smoke plumes is also very uncertain.
Fig.2: Fires in Eastern Europe from July 1st to August 12th - Burned areas and current active fires overlaid on the Global land cover 2000 dataset
The peat problem
Due to favourable conditions for fires to spread, smoldering fires continue to burn despite forest fire-fighting efforts. One explanation is that some fires occur in regions with peaty soils; these soils have an upper layer with an extremely high carbon content that burns easily and produces large amounts of smoke. Furthermore, fires often propagate at ground level and in the case of peat soils this automatically equates to a rich fuel source, making them extremely difficult to extinguish. The overlay comparison of the fire perimeters with the peat soil information provided by the European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC), also hosted by the JRC-IES, shows that fires burned not less than 181,102 ha of peat lands, which corresponds to approximately a quarter of the total burnt area.
Combining Fire Information with Land Cover Data
By combining the analysis of fire perimeters with the JRC's Land Cover 2000 dataset, it was determined that the fires mainly affect forests and agricultural crops.
In detail the work gave the following results:
|Land Cover Class||Burned area (ha)|