3 American satellites pass through the night and send photos, understand how scientists smell the ‘smoke’ of stubble


Table of Contents


  • Technology plays a vital role in tracking every incident of stubble burning in the country.
  • Three US satellites take pictures of nighttime fires, which are analyzed
  • Team of scientists in Delhi sort through thousands of photos sent by satellites

New Delhi
You must also be surprised to think that on which day where and where the stubble is burnt, how is it known? In the absence of absolutely accurate information, one has to satisfy himself thinking that what cannot be done in the age of technology. So, let us give you concrete information that how the government gets to know about each and every incident of stubble burning, that too without having to go round the fields.

Help comes from three American satellites

How interesting is it that a group of scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in Delhi ‘sniffs’ the smell of stubble burning in fields across the country. But how? Actually, three satellites of America pass over India every night. These satellites named SNPP VIIRS, Terra MODIS and Aqua MODIS take the condition of the fields from millions of feet above. Then scientists sitting in the CREAMS – Consortium for Research on Agroecosystem Monitoring and Modeling from Space laboratory at IARI, the Consortium for Research on Agricultural Ecosystem Monitoring and Modeling from Space, analyze the data collected from the satellites.

Team of scientists works hard for hours

This team of scientists assesses every picture of the fire events sent by the satellite for hours. They then decide which are the photographs of the stubble burning and which are of other fire incidents. Vinay Sehgal, in-charge and principal scientist of Cremes Laboratory, says, ‘There are many brick kilns in North India and satellites also capture the pictures of the fire burning there. Similarly, the solar panels installed in the solar park also heat up, so the satellites think that there is a fire and they take pictures of them too. Farmers in the country also burn unused components of many crops other than stubble in the fields – like in Uttar Pradesh, sugarcane fields are set on fire in late November. He adds, ‘However, forest fires continue for several hours to several days while the paddy straw gets burnt in 20 minutes to an hour.’

In this way it is known which fire is of stubble, which is different

Scientists use satellite data to sort out images of stubble burning from piles of images on a GIS platform that contains the locations of brick kilns and solar parks. Then through ‘crop masks’ the areas where paddy is not cultivated are separated. If the satellite has sent pictures of the fire from those areas, then it is isolated. According to Sehgal, the further process is to separate the images of fresh fires and old fires. According to IARI, from September 15 to November 24 this year, 71,215 incidents of stubble burning were reported in Punjab, 6,829 in Haryana and 3,436 in Uttar Pradesh. Sehgal said, “Though this time the incidents of stubble burning in Punjab were less as compared to last year, but the quantity of stubble burnt was same as last year.”

How is the incident of stubble burning detected? (signal picture)


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