The fires of Qayyara, Iraq, with Landsat and Sentinel imagery

We recently came across this interesting article on Bellingcat which is about the use of environmental damage as a weapon of war in Iraq. As the Islamic State (IS) is being pushed back, they are setting light to oil wells, pouring oil on the streets and in trenches and setting light to it and also setting light to other industrial products such as sulphur.

The article features some Landsat imagery showing the plumes of smoke. Landsat imagery is freely available, and we have in the past created a KML file that can make animations with Landsat imagery. If you download the KML file and view the animation for the area around Mosul, Iraq, you can clearly see the smoke in the last few images. Also of note, you can see some smoke from a previous event in an image from August 2014 to the north west of Mosul. We have also created animations using Sentinel 2 imagery, which you can download here.

The animations above are created using low resolution thumbnails provided on Amazon Web Services (AWS). To see some high resolution imagery, we downloaded the most recent Landsat-8 image and processed it with GIMP using a method similar to the one described here and here.

The result can be seen below:

Landsat 8 image from October 20th, 2016. Note the sulphur fire marked with an arrow. The black smoke is from oil fires.

For comparison, we also downloaded a Sentinel 2 image from September 14th 2016.

Sentinel 2 image from September 14th 2016. This is before the sulphur fire was started. Copernicus Sentinel Data, 2016.

See the above images in Google Earth, download this KML file.

The Bellingcat article also features an image of the sulphur fire from Planet Labs.

About Timothy Whitehead

Timothy has been using Google Earth since 2004 when it was still called Keyhole before it was renamed Google Earth in 2005 and has been a huge fan ever since. He is a programmer working for Red Wing Aerobatx and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.


  1. Tom Sander says:

    googles policy about Syria is absolutely ridiculous. No update of vital places since years. It is said that there are “restrictions” which have to be considered in respect to the Syrain crisis. Again: Ridiculous.
    So all those who want to keep updated and informed need to go to Terraserver. Every two weeks new updates of Latakia Airbase or Tartus. So the public can follow the Russian build up.
    Google and Syria are things which absolutely do not go together. Sorry, wrong topic

  2. Mosul in Iraq? I think these are referring to oil wells in Mosul, Iraq not Syria.

  3. Last kml dosent work and refer to page.please correct it.

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