So far, this year's wildfire season, which is not even half over, has been intense. So intense that its effects are visible from space.
NASA’s Aqua satellite captured a true-color image of smoke billowing over the Greenland Sea from fires burning in Canada and Alaska, according to NASA, which also reported that smoke crossed the North Pole earlier in July.
Last week, NASA announced new satellite tools meant to assist local firefighting teams in locating and responding to wildfires. The high-resolution data picked up by satellite can help predict the direction a fire may travel based on weather and land conditions, according to NASA. The state of Colorado has already signed on to the service for the 2016 season.
But the Aqua satellite, which picked up the smoke, is not part of that program. Instead, the smoke obscured the satellite's true target: the ocean below. Aqua's ongoing mission is to gather data on the Earth's water cycles.
That wildfires are even affecting ocean studies is unsurprising. Statistics for this wildfire season are record-breaking. As of July 15, over 10,000 square miles have burned across Canada, an area equivalent to that of Massachusetts, according to Natural Resources Canada. In Russia, the wildfire season started much earlier than usual, in April. The Weather Channel reported that smoke from southern Siberia had crossed the Pacific and was spotted over the western United States. Those fires were destructive. In April alone, at at least 23 people were killed and more than 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in Russia.
This wildfire season has burned the most acres in the United States since the government began making records public, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency reports that more than 600 fires had burned millions of acres in Alaska as of July 7, making it the worst wildfire season so far in the state’s history.
While the sheer number of individual fires in the US has not exceeded the record, the acreage the blazes are destroying and the early onset of the season are concerning.
A fast-moving wildfire that cut across the main access road forced rangers to evacuate tourists from parts of Glacier National Park in Montana on Wednesday. In Washington state, historic drought has heightened the threat of wildfires; locals are particularly concerned in areas of Greater Spokane that have seen rapid development over the last several years. The state has already put $35 million toward fighting fires, far outpacing previous seasons' expense, according to The Chronicle.
"Our climate is getting closer to Southern California," says John Sinclair, chief of Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, to NPR. "We're seeing significant amounts of fires in places where we've never seen fires before."