Posted on: September 25, 2019 at 5:31 pm

Terrifying images from a red smoke haze in Indonesia has thousands of people wondering if the pictures were taken on Earth or Mars. A haze so thick that the people in the Island of Sumatra have to wear nose masks and can no longer leave their homes. Wildfires in the virgin forests of Jambi Province sent the particles all over the atmosphere, plunging the town into “daytime redness” by a phenomenon known as Mie scattering.

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Indonesia is one of the most wildfire-prone places in the world. Between 1997 and 1998, the country had the most severe wildfire outbreak worldwide, and smoke hazes have been a yearly occurrence since then [1]. Indonesians are now forced to live with this health-endangering phenomenon during the hottest seasons of the year. The haze usually occurs between July and October and would spread to some parts of Malaysia and the Southeastern regions. This year alone, 328,724 hectares of forest and vegetative land have already been burned to the ground.

Eka Wulandari from the Mekar Sari village of Jambi province shared the photos on her Facebook page. She stated that the haze as particularly bad that day, hurting her nose and eyes so much that she found it difficult to breathe. Many people on social media doubted the credibility of the photos, attributing it to filter effects.

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“But it’s true. [It’s a] real photo and video that I took with my phone,” Eka said to BBC Indonesian [2].

I was very surprised because the sky went red. It was dark, and the wind was blowing strong. The feeling was that it was another world,” said primary school teacher Ayu Putri Wijianti to The Guardian [3].

Serious effects on the environment and the people

The scenes and pictures were confirmed to be real by the Indonesia meteorological agency, BMKG [4]. They reported that satellite imagery shows some areas dealing with thick distributions of smoke.

Hundreds of schools in the area have been closed down to protect children from the toxic particles. The air pollution statistics are off the charts as dozens of flights have been canceled and thousands of people are sick with respiratory issues. Although experts have said the haze would not damage human vision, citizens in the densely affected parts have complained of pain from the particles in their eyes.

Forest burning should be stopped

Local farmers in Indonesia have long practiced bush burning as a way of disinfecting their farmlands before the next planting season. Powerful manufacturing companies around the world have farms situated in Indonesia, and they encourage bush burning as a farm-clearing technique. 

In the hotter seasons and dry days, this will only contribute to the naturally-occurring wildfires tearing through the plains. In some areas that are not prone to natural fires, this farming activity would only create uncontrollable problems where they aren’t supposed to exist. 

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The government makes dozens of arrests yearly with regards to fires set by farmers. They are considering setting out harsher punishments for companies and locals found burning the forests, especially in restricted areas [5]

“Administrative sanctions are quicker to do, while civil and criminal law enforcement requires a long process,” said Rasio Ridho Sani, director-general of law enforcement at the environment ministry to Channel News Asia. “We can use these administrative sanctions to give deterrent effects, and we expect support from regency heads, mayors, and governors to join forces.”

Rayleigh scattering

 Professor Koh Tieh Yong of the Singapore University of Social Sciences explained the Rayleigh and Mie scattering phenomenon to BBC.

“In the smoke haze, the most abundant particles are around 1 micrometer in size, but these particles do not change the color of the light we see,” he said.

“There are also smaller particles, around 0.05 micrometers or less, that don’t make up a lot of the haze but are still somewhat more abundant during a haze period [than a normal non-haze period]… but this is enough to give an extra tendency to scatter red light more in the forward and backward directions than blue light – and that is why would you see more red than blue.”

According to Professor Koh, the haze is not significantly increasing the atmospheric temperatures and the images may appear deeply red due to the time of the day they were taken (noon).

If the sun is overhead and you look up, [you will be looking] in the line of the sun, so it would appear that more of the sky is red.”

This is not Mars. This is Jambi,” said a Twitter user Zuni Shofi Yatun Nisa who shared one of the scary videos on the platform. “We humans need clean air, not smoke.”

  1. Admin. Fires in Indonesia: causes, costs and policy implications. Center for International Forestry Research. https://www.cifor.org/library/1130/. Retrieved 23-09-19
  2. Reporter. Indonesia haze causes sky to turn blood red. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-49793047. Retrieved 23-09-19
  3. Kate Lamb. ‘This is daytime’: bright red haze from Indonesian rainforest fires envelops city. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/24/this-is-daytime-bright-red-haze-from-indonesian-rainforest-fires-envelops-village. Retrieved 23-09-19
  4. BMKG. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/B2sx7uWhkCG/. Retrieved 23-09-19
  5. Admin. Indonesia government considering harsher punishments for forest burners. Channel News Asia. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/indonesia-haze-government-harsher-punishments-forest-burners-11935152. Retrieved 23-09-19
  6. Admin. Mie Scattering Theory. Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/mie-scattering-theory. Retrieved 23-09-19
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