Wednesday, August 11, 2010

NASA map of Russia shows spread of CO gas from fires

This NASA map (dated August 11) is among the most disturbing depictions of the impact of the Russian fires  that I have seen.  NASA's Earth Observatory explains its significance:
Even as Muscovites choked under a blanket of thick smoke in the first week of August 2010, concentrations of a colorless, odorless gas spiked to dangerous levels. A product of fire and a component of smoke, carbon monoxide is among the pollutants that wildfires spread across much of western Russia. This image, made with data from the Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) sensor flying on NASA’s Terra satellite, shows carbon monoxide over western Russia between August 1 and August 8, 2010.

The highest levels of carbon monoxide are shown in red, while lower levels are yellow and orange. Western Russia, including Moscow, sits under a broad area of elevated carbon monoxide. Areas where the sensor did not collect data during the period—probably because of clouds—are gray.

Carbon monoxide is a dangerous product of fire. The gas can remain in the atmosphere for weeks after being emitted and can therefore travel long distances from the fire that produced it. 
But carbon monoxide appears not to be the worst of it.   The NY Times reports:
As if things in Russia were not looking sufficiently apocalyptic already, with 100-degree temperatures and noxious fumes rolling in from burning peat bogs and forests, there is growing alarm here that fires in regions coated with fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 24 years ago could now be emitting plumes of radioactive smoke. 

Several fires have been documented in the contaminated areas of western Russia, including three heavily irradiated sites in the Bryansk region, the environmental group Greenpeace Russia said in a statement released Tuesday. Bryansk borders Belarus and Ukraine....

Officials from Russia’s federal forest protection service confirmed that fires were burning at contaminated sites on Tuesday, and expressed fears that lax oversight as a result of recent changes in the forestry service could increase the chances that radioactive smoke would waft into populated areas.
Greenpeace has compiled a map of the most contaminated area of Russia, plotting recent fires on it.  The environmental organization reports:
“The radioactivity level may rise but not in levels caused by the Chernobyl disaster. But I wouldn’t underestimate the exposure risk as we know little about the health effects of CO and low-dose radiation combination”, said Vladimir Chouprov, Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Russia.

Alexander Frolov, head of the Federal Meteorological Service, said official archives have found that this year's heat wave is the worst in 1,000 years.
"I would add to this that the Russian forest management system and the terrible forest law that caused the wildfires disaster are the worst in 1,000 years. And the biggest mistake we can do now is to blame the heat wave only”, said Sergey Tsyplenkov, Greenpeace Russia Executive Director.
This summer citizens of two of the world's three largest countries -- Russia and the United States -- are simultaneously suffering from most spectacular environmental catastrophes in their histories, yet the political leadership of neither country appears willing to go beyond "blaming the heat wave [or BP] only."

Of course, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill happened first. And in previous posts, I looked at Obama's response to that.

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