There Will Be Fire…

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“With seven years of data, it is not possible to
determine if there is an increasing trends in the
occurrence of fire, but we have significant
year-to-year differences, of the order of 20%, in
the area that is burnt.”

“Probably 95% of all vegetation fires have a human source…”

” … grass regenerates very quickly during the
wet season. From a carbon perspective, there is a
net balance due to the regenerating vegetation
acting as a carbon sink. Fires in forests are
more important as the affected area becomes a
carbon source for a number of years.”

“Fire has been a feature of the planet in the
past and under a scenario of a warmer environment
will certainly be a feature in the future”.
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EurekAlert  AAAS

University of Leicester
Public release date: 22-May-2008

Scorched Earth map shows ‘fire scars’

Dr Kevin Tansey, of the Department of Geography,
a leading scientist in an international team,
created a visual impression of the fire scars on
our planet between 2000 and 2007. The work was
funded by the Joint Research Centre of the
European Commission.

The map reveals that between 3.5 and 4.5 million
km2 of vegetation burns on an annual basis. This
is an area equivalent to the European Union
(EU27) and larger than the country of India that
is burnt every year.

The information is vital for scientists and
agencies involved in monitoring global warming,
measuring and understanding pollutants in the
atmosphere, managing forests and controlling fire
and even for predicting future fire occurrence.

The research has been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Dr Tansey, a Lecturer in Remote Sensing at the
University of Leicester, said: “We have produced,
for the first time, a global data base and map of
the occurrence of fire scars covering the period
2000-2007. Prior to this development, data were
only available for the year 2000. With seven
years of data, it is not possible to determine if
there is an increasing trends in the occurrence
of fire, but we have significant year-to-year
differences, of the order of 20%, in the area
that is burnt.

“The work was undertaken with colleagues from the
Joint Research Centre of the European Commission
(Italy) and the Université catholique de Louvain
(Belgium).

“This unique data set is in much demand by a
large community of scientists interested in
climate change, vegetation monitoring,
atmospheric chemistry and carbon storage and
flows.

“We have used the VEGETATION instrument onboard
the SPOT European satellite, which collects
reflected solar energy from the Earth’s surface,
providing global coverage on almost a daily basis.

“When vegetation burns the amount of reflected
energy is altered, long enough for us to make an
observation of the fire scar. Supercomputers
located in Belgium were used to process the vast
amounts of satellite data used in the project. At
the moment, we have users working towards
predicting future fire occurrence and fire
management issues in the Kruger Park in southern
Africa”.

“The majority of fires occur in Africa. Large
swathes of savannah grasslands are cleared every
year, up to seven times burnt in the period
2000-2007 (see Figure 1). The system is
sustainable because the grass regenerates very
quickly during the wet season. From a carbon
perspective, there is a net balance due to the
regenerating vegetation acting as a carbon sink.
Fires in forests are more important as the
affected area becomes a carbon source for a
number of years.

“The forest fires last summer in Greece and in
Portugal a couple of years back, remind us that
we need to understand the impact of fire on the
environment and climate to manage the vegetation
of the planet more effectively. Probably 95% of
all vegetation fires have a human source; crop
stubble burning, forest clearance, hunting, arson
are all causes of fire across the globe. Fire has
been a feature of the planet in the past and
under a scenario of a warmer environment will
certainly be a feature in the future”.

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Publication details:
Tansey, K., Grégoire, J.-M., Defourny, P., Leigh,
R., Pekel, J.-F., van Bogaert, E., and
Bartholomé, E., 2008, A new, global, multi-annual
(2000-2007) burnt area product at 1 km
resolution. Geophysical Research Letters, 35,
L01401, doi:10.1029/2007GL031567.

Funding details: The project was funded by the
European Commission, through DG Joint Research
Centre.

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