News & Events

Fire on Saddleworth Moor seen from Space

Peat fires in June on Saddleworth Moor spanned seven square miles, causing destruction of local habitat for wild life and fauna, local residents to evacuate their houses, and plumes of smoke drifting across the greater Manchester area. Firefighters called in the army as the fire was in danger of becoming more widespread. By the 28th June 2018, their efforts had taken control of the fire, but there remains a risk that the fire will reignite during this hot and dry heatwave.

NCEO Scientists used satellite images to monitor the effects of the fire. NCEO Dave Moore’s Figure 1 below is a True colour image from 10m resolution Sentinel 2 on 26th June 2018 showing the Saddleworth Moor fire smoke extent. Figure 2 is a False colour image from Sentinel 2 on 26th June 2018 showing visible burn scars and active fires using NIR/SWIR data. Channels used include R:Band 12 (2.19 microns), G:Band NIR (0.842 microns), B:Band 2 Blue (0.490 microns). Active fires can be seen in red and the thickest smoke in blue. (A false colour image is where the true image from the satellite image is coloured to enhance natural features). For more information, email or David Moore:

Images of the Saddleworth Moor fire were also captured by many of the optical satellites that NEODAAS Plymouth, based at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), routinely process. Ben Loveday, a Marine Earth Observation Scientist at PML, provided images Figures 3-6. The high-resolution Landsat 8 (Figure 3) and USGS Landsat8 satellites (Figure 4), captured the blaze on June 26th and June 27th, respectively, using both visible and infra-red sensor bands. Visible bands give a recognisable ‘birds-eye view’ of the area, but the smoke prevents viewing the ground. However, the infra-red bands are able to partially detect the heat of the ground through the smoke, giving an indication of the fire below. In the visible image the natural wavelengths of red, green and blue make up the image. In the infra-red case, the short-wave infra-red, near infrared and red channels are used as red, green and blue in the image, so the redder it looks, the hotter the ground. Figures 5 and 6 show images captured by the ESA Sentinel-2A satellite.

The fire was also visible in wider-view, medium-resolution satellites such as EUMETSAT-operated Sentinel-3, which showed the extent of the smoke plume using its visible sensor, OLCI, and monitored the blaze using its designated fire channel on the SLSTR temperature sensor.

Sentinel-3A provides coverage of the UK every other day, and with the addition of it counterpart, Sentinel-3B (currently in its orbital calibration phase), will provide daily imagery of the country. The Sentinel-2A and Sentinel-2B provide high-resolution (10 m) imagery of the UK every 3-5 days. These satellites contribute to the Copernicus Emergency Management Service, which provides satellite-based coverage of emergencies throughout Europe. CEMS was activated for the Saddleworth Moor fire on June 24th.

Thanks to the recently launched Sentinel-5 P satellite that carries the TROPOMI instrument, we can observe the plume of emitted gases into the atmosphere with fine detail. The image in Figure 8 below shows the plume of carbon monoxide (CO), an important pollutant that is the result of incomplete combustion from a fire, which is covering the urban area of Manchester. Figure 8 image is courtesy of the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, and Dr David Moore NCEO Leicester,

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UK 26 June 2018 showing smoke plume Saddleworth Moor fire copyright Dave Moore NCEO