The ESA satellites show that Greece has experienced more forest fires in the last decade compared to any other countries in Europe. The country is still fighting to put out the wildfire that has engulfed vast areas and is still spreading. It has killed 60 people and has caused enough damage to the environment and economy.
ESA's ERS-2 and Envisat satellites continuously survey fires burning across the Earth's surface with onboard sensors - the Along Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR) and the Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (AATSR) respectively, known as the ATSR Word Fire Atlas, which is available to users online in near-real time.
The ATSR World Fire Atlas is the longest worldwide fire atlas available. Even if the atlas is not supposed to pick up all fires due to satellite overpass constraints and cloud coverage, it is statistically representative from one month to the other and from one year to the other.
Weather conditions, including record summer temperatures and hot dry winds, in 2007 made parts of the Mediterranean - including Greece and southern Italy - a tinderbox, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said.
The ATSR World Fire Atlas provides data approximately six hours after acquisition. All available satellite passes are processed to create the ATSR World Fire Atlas. In addition to maps, the time, date, longitude and latitude of the hot spots are provided. The data are used for research in atmospheric chemistry, land use change, global change ecology, fire prevention and management and meteorology.
Quantifying fires is important for the ongoing study of climate because they have a significant impact on global atmospheric pollution, with biomass burning contributing to the global budgets of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide. The 1998 El Niņo, for example, helped encourage fires across Borneo which emitted up to 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, equivalent to Europe's entire carbon emissions that year.
One of the biggest problems during and after fires is obtaining an overall view of the damage and its evolution. With fires visible from space, Earth Observation is also being used to detect and monitor the active spots over affected areas. In October 2000, ESA and the French space agency (CNES) initiated the International Charter Space and Major Disasters, a joint initiative with now ten members, aiming at rapidly tasking Earth Observation satellites and delivering spacemaps to users concerned with emergency response, such as civil protection authorities, anywhere in the world.
Such a capacity can help monitor fire hazard by integrating imagery into geographic information systems used by decision makers and actors in the field. On 29 August, the National Cadastral Organisation of Greece requested support from the International Charter in response to the fire events affecting the country.