Smoke and fires across western Russia
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Smoke and fires across western Russia

August 18, 2010
A veil of gray shrouds western Russia as plumes of thick smoke pour from numerous fires blazing in the region on August 10, 2010, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite captured true-color images as the satellite passed overhead. Two images have been merged to illustrate the expanse of the fires throughout the region.

In this composite image, the Ukraine lies at the left lower (southwestern) corner. Moving to the east, the blue tip of the Sea of Azov can be seen and then the Caspian Sea, with milky turquoise water. Kazakhstan occupies the southeastern corner, while Moscow, obscured by cloud and smoke, lies near the center of the western edge of the image.

Many red hotspots, most with gray ribbons of smoke, can be found within green areas. These are most likely fires within forests. Other hotspots can be seen within areas of tan or brown, or in areas of mottled brown and green. It is likely that these are fires within agricultural land or peat bogs. It has been reported that, due to the combination drought and fire, over 20% of Russia's wheat crops have been lost, prompting the Russian government to impose an embargo on wheat export.

In the 1960's, many of Russia's peat bogs were drained to create agricultural land or to make peat mining possible. By 1988, the Moscow region's 18 plants produced over 6 million tons of peat a year. Since that time, many peat fields have gone idle and, without management, have turned tinder-dry. Such fields ignite quickly, emit large amounts of carbon and smoke, and can be extremely difficult to extinguish. Even after appearing well-extinguished,a peat fire can smolder underground all winter, to reappear when the weather once again turns dry and hot.

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