Biomass burning is the burning of living and dead vegetation. It includes the human-initiated burning of vegetation for land clearing and land-use change as well as natural, lightning-induced fires. Scientists estimate that humans are responsible for about 90% of biomass burning with only a small percentage of natural fires contributing to the total amount of vegetation burned. Burning vegetation releases large amounts of particulates (solid carbon combustion particles) and gases, including greenhouse gases that help warm the Earth. Studies suggest that biomass burning has increased on a global scale over the last 100 years, and computer calculations indicate that a hotter Earth resulting from global warming will lead to more frequent and larger fires. Biomass burning particulates impact climate and can also affect human health when they are inhaled, causing respiratory problems. Here are three images of South America on October 7, 2004. The first image is shows clouds and fires on that day. The second image is clouds and Nitrous Dioxide (NO2) concentrations in the stratosphere. The last image overlays the fires on the NO2 data.
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