JAMBI, INDONESIA – This is not the surface of Mars, this is the afternoon sky across portions of Indonesia.
The sky over the province of Jambi, Indonesia turned dark blood red over the weekend following a surge of forest fires throughout the country. Onlookers took to social media to capture the smoky haze, which was caused by open burning in Indonesia.
The sky appeared to turn a reddish hue and conditions made it difficult to breathe. A social media user caught the dramatic scene in a video she posted to Twitter.
“This afternoon is not night,” Zuni Shofi Yatun Nisa wrote. “This is earth, not planet Mars. This is not in outer space. It’s us who breathe with lungs, not with gills. We humans need clean air, not smoke.”
Indonesia’s meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) has explained the Mars-like skies over Jambi as a phenomenon known as “Mie Scattering.”
The red color is caused by the sunlight being scattered in the air by 0.7-micrometer particles. The BMKG said the pervasive red is produced when the micro-particles of pollutants in the air are equal to the wavelength of visible sunlight.
According to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), an European Union-based weather service that provides data on atmospheric composition, thousands of acres of ecologically important land are being burned which is contributing to the toxic haze.
More than 328,000 hectares have so far been burned, triggering respiratory problems in some residents and creating a long-lasting layer of smog.
Mark Parrington, a European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts senior scientist at the CAMS, said in a recent review of data that they are closely monitoring the intensity of the fires and smoke emitting from Indonesia.
“Approximately half of the local fire season having passed, it is clear that these fires are unusual and are causing significant concern,” Parrington said. “In Indonesia, burning peat, which can smolder at low temperatures and underground, is the most significant concern as it is releasing carbon which has been stored for tens or thousands of years.”
CAMS says the air quality in the span from August 1 to September 18, 2019 is thought to be “equally as poor” as the 2015 fires, which were considered to be particularly devastating for Indonesia and surrounding South Asian nations.
The crisis has caused pushed air pollution indexes off the charts in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo, forced the cancellation of scores of flights, the closure of hundreds of schools across Indonesia and Malaysia, caused diplomatic tensions, and made hundreds of thousands of people sick.
On Monday, Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency said that almost one million people were suffering from acute respiratory infections caused by the haze and forest fires.
Fires in Indonesia are an annual event and the burning season typically peaks between July and October, suggesting the poor air conditions and unusually high levels of smog could persist for several more weeks.
Much like the Amazon, the fires in Indonesia have been started deliberately in order to clear land for agriculture, but especially for paper and palm oil. While the practice is prohibited it is not strictly enforced.