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Author: Nauka v Sibiri (Science in Siberia), 1999 Prepared by Emma SOLOMATINA
The incidence of forest fires in Russia now stands at more than 30 thousand a year. These fires affect areas of 2 to 3 min hectares and, in what experts call extreme cases, such as took place in 1999, for example, the size of the affected areas can be doubled. Atmospheric pollution with aerosols resulting from forest fires is commensurate with those caused by volcanic activities; in fact, the mass of the annually incinerated organic matter is steadily approaching the one-billion-tons mark, which will soon be attained if experts fail to work out a strategy and tactics of crisis management in the nearest future. The problem of forest fires is now on an international cooperation agenda, with Russia being represented by the Institute of Forestry named after Vladimir Sukachev (the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Krasnoyarsk).
The Institute has been dealing with the problem of forest fires since 1958. A decade later Dr. Nikolai Kurbatkin, who set up the laboratory of forest pyrology and started the Siberian school of research in this field, turned for support and assistance to the Institute of Chemical Kinetics of Combustion (the Siberian Branch of RAS, Novosibirsk). It sent a team of young researchers who focused on the mechanisms of physical and chemical processes occurring during the combustion of plant and vegetable matter in labs and at test sites.
Practical studies of forest fires, however, require effective remote sensing methods and equipment. Researchers working in this field had to design and build sets of instruments and equipment for early forest fires detection, including TV cameras, spectrometers and radiometers mounted on aircraft.
The first flying lab like that was set up in 1974 on board an AN-2 aircraft and was later modified and improved to be mounted on board bigger IL-14 planes. Its new version, carried by an AN-30 plane, was launched in 1984 and featured not only remote sensing equipment, but also a minicomputer for data collection and transmission within a radius of 600 km. With this country's mounting economic problems in the early 1990s, the flying lab was grounded, although by that time the scientists had worked out methods of forest fires monitoring in separate (test) areas. They could also obtain-directly from board the flying lab-radiation-reflectory data on the source of fire which could be used for on-the-spot prognostication of forest fires with the help of mathematical methods.
Earth soundings from space were started in this country back in 1974 on the initiative of the Institute of Space Studies of what was then the USSR Academy of Sciences. Academician Alexander Isaev was the founder and head of the project for remote studies of forests. Using the above flying lab, researchers of the Institute of Forestry working under his direction worked out methods of interpretation of space photographs, with the first patents for forest fires monitoring instruments and equipment issued in 1989. But due to our economic constraints a regular pattern of research in this field could not be maintained.
The situation changed for the better in 1992 with the arrival in Krasnoyarsk of some leading experts from Canada, the United States and Germany with whom the Siberian researchers established good working relations. As it turned out later, NASA was preparing to launch a space probe for global ecological surveillance over the whole of Asia including its Russian part. On the initiative of Academician Isaev- Director of the Center for Problems of Ecology and Forests Productivity of the Russian Academy of Sciences-and R. Murphy of NASA, it was decided to set up in Krasnoyarsk a reception station NRPT (USA) for input data from the NOAA polar orbital satellites. This station was commissioned in 1994. Later on, in keeping with the decision of the Joint Chernomyrdin-Gore Commission on space research, and the US-Russian Working Group on Earth Science, studies were launched of boreal forests and the building of an appropriate database.
Thus Krasnoyarsk became a center for continuous monitoring of forests across the Asian regions of this country. Over Siberia space photographs can be obtained six times in 24 hours over a belt of 52-68 N stretching for 2,400 km. Such observations make it possible to assess the forest fires hazard in the whole of this region and its dynamics, detect new sources of fires, prognosticate their spread with due account of weather conditions, and also evaluate the scale of damage from such calamities.
The Institute of Forestry is studying so-called "green fires" caused by harmful insects such as silkworms. Working in cooperation with Russia's Ministry for Emergencies, scientists monitor various natural and technogenic calamities and help file timely reports to the appropriate authorities.
All this work is conducted under the supervision of Academician Ye. Vaganov. Director of the Forestry Institute of the RAS Siberian Branch, and involves contacts and cooperation with experts from the United States, Canada, South Korea, China, Germany and Switzerland.
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