When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, he set in motion a political conflict that resulted in a devastating man-made environmental catastrophe. He swore that “if he had to be evicted from Kuwait by force, then Kuwait would be burned.”
And so he burned it. As promised, upon evacuation, Iraqi troops set fire to nearly 700 oil wells in several Kuwait oil fields. The fires started in January 1991; the last was extinguished by November of the same year. Their smoke and fumes are thought by some to have contributed to Gulf War Syndrome, the illness suffered by many veterans of the conflict.
Now, 20 years later, the Earth has largely reclaimed the area. As the USGS writes of the above photos:
Sabriyah Oil Field, Kuwait. Left: February 2, 1991. Right: July 15, 2011. Iraqi forces set hundreds of oil wells ablaze during the U.S.-led Gulf War following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991. Some six million barrels of oil per day went up in smoke. Residue darkened the normally light-colored soil, as seen in the 1991 image. By 2011, the environment has largely recovered. Smoke plumes in the latter image are from fires normally set to burn off gases from the wells.
1991 image taken by the Thematic Mapper sensor aboard Landsat 5.
2011 images taken by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus aboard Landsat 7.
Source: USGS Landsat Missions Gallery, U.S. Department of the Interior / U.S. Geological Survey