Many dozens of fires burned in northwest India in late October, 2013. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over the region on October 27 and captured this true-color image of fires and smoke.
The red “hotspots” mark areas where the thermal sensors on the MODIS instrument have detected high temperatures. When combined with smoke, such hotspots identify actively burning fires. These fires are densely clustered in the Punjab region of India, in an area sometimes called “the bread bowl of the country”.
According to the Department of Agriculture Government of Punjab, India, the state contains 5.03 million hectares, with 4.23 million hectares under cultivation, with the primary crops of wheat, rice and cotton. About 75% of the population of that region depends directly on agriculture.
Clustering of fires in this region is a common phenomenon each fall. They most likely represent fires set to clear the harvest from the autumn crop (Kharif crop) and to ready the land for planting the spring crop (Rabi crop). Farmers often use fire to return nutrients to the soil and to clear the ground of unwanted plants. While fire helps enhance crops and grasses for pasture, the fires also produce smoke that degrades air quality. While much of the haze is likely smoke from the fires, urban pollution is also a major problem in this part of India.