On January 22, 2014 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over Indochina and captured a true-color image of fires burning across the region. Fires are marked by red “hotspots”, which represent areas where the thermal sensors detected temperatures higher than expected. When combined with smoke, such hotspots indicate actively burning fires.
Many dozens of fires cluster in the darkest green areas of Cambodia, with fewer spots speckling Thailand (northwest) and Vietnam (southeast). Smoke shrouds southern Cambodia and southeastern Vietnam, and gray plumes blow over the South China Sea.
The location of the fires, high number, widespread nature and time of year are typical of blazes set for agricultural management. In traditional farming, fire is often used to clear fields for planting, burn refuse from previous seasons, enrich the soil, and open new fields. In Indochina, the agricultural burning season usually beings in mid- to late-January and ends in April or May.