Fires in Central Australia
Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
Fire regimes across Australia’s vast, arid interior have changed in the time since European settlement. Aboriginal peoples’ pastoralism involved controlled burning of small, scattered areas, which created a diverse vegetation landscape and natural fire breaks. The diverse vegetation in turn supported a diversity of native plants and animals.
This series of images of central Australia near Alice Springs shows numerous large bushfires marked with red dots. The native vegetation of the arid region appears reddish in the true-color imagery, but the enhanced false-color image provides better contrast between vegetation and burned areas, with vegetation appearing in shades of green, naturally bare soil apearing pinkish, and burned areas appearing reddish-brown or dark brown. Some of these fires are occurring on Aboriginal lands and may be part of traditional fire management practices. The images were captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra and Aqua satellites between in summer and fall of 2002.
The region is now facing problems similar to the Western forests of the United States. In the arid regions of the continent, fire suppression that has been practiced since European settlement has caused a build up in vegetation that fuels larger, more destructive bushfires. Whether the native plants and animals can adapt to this new fire regime is the subject of intense study. Already it appears that fire suppression has created an abundance of trees and shrubs that are crowding out native grasses and reducing rangeland for grazing animals. Larger fires put further pressure on remaining rangeland habitat.