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Seen from Space 2003

Burning Tropical Savanna in Northern Australia

 
(Image 1) Bushfire in northern Australia

GLI acquired this image of burning tropical savanna in northern Australia on October 4, 2003. The white rising smoke of the bushfire can be seen in Arnhem Land of the Northern Territory State and in the Cape York Peninsula of Queensland State. Red dots indicate fire spots, which were extracted and drawn on the image.* Image 2 is a close-up of the Cape York Peninsula in image 1, and the rising smoke from fire spots can be seen more clearly. The Great Barrier Reef is also visible stretching from north to south east of Cape York Peninsula.

(Image 2) Close-up of image 1

The north coast of Australia is a tropical area where the temperature reaches 30°C throughout the year. The tropical climate is divided into the rainy season from November to April and the dry season. From the distant past, bushfires have burnt intensely, usually in the dry season in this area. The fires are made up of burning bush trees and grass in the eucalyptus-based savanna. The frequency and intensity of bushfires increase toward the end of the dry season.

Bushfires are started by various means, including spontaneous fire due to lightning, carelessness, and fire agriculture by native tribes. People, animals, and plants have developed a distinct life cycle based on bushfires. The frequency and scale of bushfires influence the area's ecology so significantly that CSIRO (http://www.bbm.csiro.au/) and the NT Bushfire Council (http://www.nt.gov.au/ipe/bfc/), research institutes in Australia, actively research the control of bushfires and their influence on the ecology.

Eucalyptus-dominated tropical savanna
(Image 3) Early dry season before bushfire (Image 4) Late dry season after bushfire
 
Although eucalyptus trunks include much oil that burns well, the fire does not reach the heart of the tree and so it survives the bushfire.
(Image 5) A late dry season fire moves across a sandstone heath community in northern Australia. These communities contain fire-sensitive plants whose seed can tolerate, and sometimes require, fire but are unable to withstand frequent fires.

*Images 3, 4, and 5 were provided by the NT Bushfire Council.
*High-temperature areas (exceeding 330K or 57°C) observed by GLI middle infrared channel (3.7µm) were extracted and drawn in red on the image.

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