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10 wildfires as seen from space

By: Katherine Butler on June 3, 2012, 3:23 p.m.
fires around Lake Baikal, in Russian Siberia

Photo: NASA, Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team

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Earth's tipping point

Here we see fires around Lake Baikal in Russian Siberia on May 8, 2012. The fires are marked by red dots, and smoke appears as a light brown color, according to NASA. Before the advent of the Terra and Aqua satellites, which carry the MODIS imagers, scientists could only speculate about the link between climate change and wildfires.

Now, the link between these fires and climate change is clear. MODIS, along with other air-quality instruments, shows that deforestation is the link to climate change. NASA says, “approximately half of the total contribution of carbon to the atmosphere from deforestation occurs in the form of fire emissions.” As we cut down the carbon dioxide-absorbing forests of the planet, these raging fires add more carbon dioxide to the air.