Misleading fire maps
Australia’s bushfire (wildfire) emergency has been shared worldwide with images of devastation, injured koalas and confronting fires going viral. Some of these appear to show blazes all over the country. But these images are not realistic and have been flagged by Facebook and Instagram as “false information”.
For example, this image is not a photograph, but a graphic visualization of thermal satellite data. When a particular pixel is very hot, it is classified as a hotspot. But the area shown in the graphic may be significantly larger than the area of the hotspot. And the hotspot can be caused by other things besides fires. This image compiles one month of hotspot data (from December 5 until January 5) and the orange glow is exaggerated which makes the fires seem much larger than they actually are. In this case an artist’s visualization has been misinterpreted.
Another hotspot graphic uses symbols which cover a larger area than the fires. These oversized graphics give the impression a greater area is on fire than is actually true. They show the location of hotspots, but not their area. The different colours of the icons represent how long it has been since a hotspot was detected; red being more recent and orange/yellow being two to three days old. In this case the symbols have been misinterpreted.
Digital Earth Australia (DEA) Hotspots is a national bushfire monitoring system that helps emergency service managers to detect and track bushfires in close to real-time. The mapping system uses satellite sensors to detect areas producing high levels of infrared radiation (called hotspots) accurately to allow users to identify potential fire locations with a possible risk to communities and property.
This detection of hotspots by satellite sensors has the following limitations:
- At best, the information is 30 minutes to an hour old (this is how long it takes to download and process data into hotspots after each satellite pass).
- Satellites pass over a given area between 2 to no more than 4 times a day, and each pass covers only a part of Australia, which means some fires are not detected because the satellite was not looking over that particular area.
- The hotspot location on any map (no matter how detailed) is only accurate to at best 1.5 km.
- The size of the hotspot does not indicate the area of fire.
- The hotspots are collected over the past 72 hours.
- Not all hotspots are fires; they can also indicate black soil, gas fires, industry, furnaces, smoke plumes or hot rocks.
- Not all hotspots are detected by the satellites. Some heat sources may be too small, not hot enough, or obscured by thick smoke or cloud.
DEA Hotspots is a remote sensing technique. Remote sensing is the acquisition of information from a distance above the earth without making physical contact with it. This process involves the detection and measurement of radiation of different wavelengths reflected or emitted from distant objects or materials. The sensors for remote sensing (which monitor electromagnetic radiation) are usually flown in satellites or in aircraft.
The satellites used by DEA hotspots are polar orbiting satellites. For example Landsat 8 is at an altitude of 705 km (438 miles) and circles the earth every 99 minutes. And Sentinel-3 is at an altitude of 814 km (523 miles) and circles the earth every 101inutes. In these cases the remote sensor is about 700-800 km (450-500 miles) away from the earth.
Infrared and visible cloud photographs taken by geostationary satellites for weather analysis and forecasting are another example of remote sensing. A geostationary orbit (or a geosynchronous equatorial orbit), is a circular orbit 35,786 km (22,236 miles) above Earth’s equator and following the direction of Earth’s rotation. Because the satellite orbits at the same speed that the Earth is turning and its orbit is in the same plane as the equator, the satellite seems to stay in the same position in the sky relative to the Earth’s surface. This particular orbit is used for meteorological and communications satellites. In this case the remote sensor is about 35,790 km (22,240 miles) away from the earth, which is about 70 times the distance used by DEA Hotspots.
Ground truthing is essential for the calibration and correct interpretation of remote sensing data. “Ground truth” refers to information collected about the surface of the earth. It’s on-site (or local), and not remote. Ground truth allows the remote image data to be related to real features and materials on the ground. The collection of ground truth data enables calibration of remote-sensing data, and aids in the interpretation and analysis of what is being sensed.
Ground truthing is an essential part of remote sensing. Without it, the remote sensing data are useless.
The geologic time scale is a system of chronological dating that relates geological strata (stratigraphy) to time. It is used by geologists, paleontologists, and other earth scientists to describe the timing and relationships of events that have occurred during Earth’s history. The geologic time scale is a remote sensing method where observations or measurements made today are interpreted from a distance to infer the date of events that are assumed to have occurred long ago. In this case the “remote sensor” (current observations) is assumed to be millions and billions of years away from the actual event. However, in this case there is no ground truthing because no one can go back in time and observe/record whether the events actually occurred or when they actually occurred. But as remote sensing data without ground truthing (or calibration) are useless, the geologic time scale is useless! It just reflects the presuppositions behind it; not what actually occurred.
The biblical time scale is preferable to the geologic time scale because it’s based on the facts of written history rather than the uncalibrated assumptions of remote dating (or historical science).
Just like the misleading fire maps, the geologic time scale is “false information” because it’s based on false interpretation of the evidence.
Lessons for us
The Princeton theologian J. Gresham Machen warned:
“False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.”
Secularism is an obstacle to Christianity. The geologic time scale is part of the secular creation story. Elsewhere, I’ve given six reasons to be skeptical of the geologic time scale. Some other false ideas are mentioned in the Appendix.
Appendix: Some false ideas (Hodge, 2018)
These worldviews are self-refuting.
Materialism, a belief that asserts that all things that exist are made up of matter and energy, is itself not material or energy, but a nonmaterial concept. This means materialism cannot exist within materialism! Thus, materialism is self-defeating and refuted.
Naturalism, a belief that nature (all that is physical) is all that exists, is itself not part of nature—being conceptual and nonphysical. Thus, naturalism stands opposed to naturalism! This is inconsistent and self-refuting.
Relativism proclaims that “absolute truth doesn’t exist” and uses this to criticize the absolute truth of Christianity. But to claim an absolute truth about absolute truth not existing is inconsistent and self-refuting.
The big bang theory and the theory of biological evolution both include miracles that cannot be explained by observational science (natural explanations of natural phenomena):
– Something came from nothing at the beginning of time. Quantum fluctuations can’t be the cause because that assumes the existence of a quantum vacuum and quantum mechanics instead of nothing.
– There was a brief rapid expansion of space (which defied all known laws of physics) in the early universe (called cosmic inflation). No-one knows why inflation would start or stop.
– The origin of life from non-living matter (abiogenesis or chemical evolution).
So these foundational theories of naturalism and science rely on non-scientific miracles, which is inconsistent and self-refuting.
Hodge B (2018) “Micro-refutations”, Answers in Genesis.
Machen J G (1913) “Christianity and culture”, The Princeton Theological Review.
Written, January 2020