Fire activity in northwestern India exposes millions to smoke •

Fire activity in northwestern India exposes millions to smoke

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features a massive amount of smoke streaming from fires in Punjab and Haryana toward Delhi, one of India’s most densely populated cities. 

According to NASA, satellites detect large plumes of smoke and heightened fire activity in northwestern India every November as farmers burn off excess paddy straw after the rice harvest. 

The photograph was captured on November 11, 2021 by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite.

“Looking at the size of the plume on November 11 and the population density in this area, I would say that a conservative estimate is that at least 22 million people were affected by smoke on this one day,” said Pawan Gupta, a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

The smoke from crop fires often combines with dust from the Thar Desert to the west. Air quality is often very poor in northwest India due to human activities, such as pollution from industry and traffic. 

To anticipate fire activity each year, Hiren Jethva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center uses satellite data to measure “greenness” based on the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI).

“Earlier in the summer, we saw one of the largest NDVI values in the 20-plus year record. Based on that, I predicted this would be one of the most active fire seasons on record, and that is exactly what we have seen,” said Jethva. 

“We still have a few weeks of burning to go, but already Aqua MODIS has detected more than 17,000 hotspots in Punjab and Haryana – making this the most active fire season on record.”

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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