Detection and Characterization of Low Temperature Peat Fires during the 2015 Fire Catastrophe in Indonesia Using a New High-Sensitivity Fire Monitoring Satellite Sensor (FireBird)

PLoS One. 2016 Aug 3;11(8):e0159410. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0159410. eCollection 2016.


Vast and disastrous fires occurred on Borneo during the 2015 dry season, pushing Indonesia into the top five carbon emitting countries. The region was affected by a very strong El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate phenomenon, on par with the last severe event in 1997/98. Fire dynamics in Central Kalimantan were investigated using an innovative sensor offering higher sensitivity to a wider range of fire intensities at a finer spatial resolution (160 m) than heretofore available. The sensor is onboard the TET-1 satellite, part of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) FireBird mission. TET-1 images (acquired every 2-3 days) from the middle infrared were used to detect fires continuously burning for almost three weeks in the protected peatlands of Sebangau National Park as well as surrounding areas with active logging and oil palm concessions. TET-1 detection capabilities were compared with MODIS active fire detection and Landsat burned area algorithms. Fire dynamics, including fire front propagation speed and area burned, were investigated. We show that TET-1 has improved detection capabilities over MODIS in monitoring low-intensity peatland fire fronts through thick smoke and haze. Analysis of fire dynamics revealed that the largest burned areas resulted from fire front lines started from multiple locations, and the highest propagation speeds were in excess of 500 m/day (all over peat > 2m deep). Fires were found to occur most often in concessions that contained drainage infrastructure but were not cleared prior to the fire season. Benefits of implementing this sensor system to improve current fire management techniques are discussed. Near real-time fire detection together with enhanced fire behavior monitoring capabilities would not only improve firefighting efforts, but also benefit analysis of fire impact on tropical peatlands, greenhouse gas emission estimations as well as mitigation measures to reduce severe fire events in the future.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / metabolism*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Disasters
  • Fires*
  • Indonesia
  • Satellite Communications / instrumentation*


  • Carbon

Grant support

Publication funding was provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR e.V.) and RSS Remote Sensing Solutions GmbH. The authors received no specific funding for this work. The commercial funder, RSS GmbH, provided support in the form of salaries for the authors ECA, SE, WW and FS, who were involved with the study design, collaborative data collection and analysis, decision to publish, and preparation of the manuscript. This funding was provided as purely research oriented support in order to enable development of novel methods for examining this system. The specific roles of each author is articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section.