Fires in Cuba Most Likely Due to Agriculture

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
March 23, 2020
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Fires in Cuba Most Likely Due to Agriculture
Fires In Cuba

Hot spots dotted the landscape across most of Cuba on March 22, 2020, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) onboard NASA’s Terra satellite acquired a true-color image of the scene.
Each red “hot spot” is an area where the thermal bands on the instrument detect temperatures that are higher than the background area. When combined with smoke, which is most probably obscured by clouds in this image, such hotspots are indicative of an actively burning fire.

Fire is used extensively as an agricultural tool in Cuba and is known as “slash and burn” agriculture. 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.The smoke released by any type of fire (forest, brush, crop, structure, tires, waste or wood burning) is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials. All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter or soot. Of course, natural forest fires occur as well. The fires in this image might well be a combination of the two types, given the time of year and the location of the fires, but it’s not possible to determine the cause of a fire from satellite imagery alone. Fire season runs from January to May in Cuba, during the dry season, and ends when the rainy season begins in May.

NASA’s satellite instruments are often the first to detect wildfires burning in remote regions, and the locations of new fires are sent directly to land managers worldwide within hours of the satellite overpass. Together, NASA instruments detect actively burning fires, track the transport of smoke from fires, provide information for fire management, and map the extent of changes to ecosystems, based on the extent and severity of burn scars. NASA has a fleet of Earth-observing instruments, many of which contribute to our understanding of fire in the Earth system. Satellites in orbit around the poles provide observations of the entire planet several times per day, whereas satellites in a geostationary orbit provide coarse-resolution imagery of fires, smoke and clouds every five to 15 minutes. For more information visit:

NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Worldview application provides the capability to interactively browse over 700 global, full-resolution satellite imagery layers and then download the underlying data. Many of the available imagery layers are updated within three hours of observation, essentially showing the entire Earth as it looks “right now.” Image Courtesy: NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). Caption: Lynn Jenner

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