Area the size of the EU burnt by fires every year, new map shows

Based on data from the VEGETATION instrument, an imaging tool aboard the SPOT (Earth Observation System) satellite, the researchers put together a map of global fire activity between 2000 and 2007. The sensor records reflected solar energy from the Earth’s surface, providing global coverage on a close to daily basis. As the amount of energy reflected is altered when vegetation burns, the researchers were able to identify fire scars. Supercomputers located in Belgium were then used to process the massive amounts of data provided by the sensor.

‘The majority of fires occurred in Africa. Large swathes of savannah grasslands are cleared every year,’ the lead author of the paper, Dr Kevin Tansey of the University of Leicester, UK, comments. ‘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.’

Researchers, particularly in the areas climate change, vegetation monitoring, atmospheric chemistry and carbon storage and flows, rely on these analyses in part for their work. However, up until now, these analyses were only available up to the year 2000.

While Dr Tansey admits that it is not possible to determine if there is an increasing trend in the occurrence of fire just by looking at this limited time period, he says that he and his colleagues have found significant year-to-year differences.

‘The forest fires last summer in Greece and 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,’ he says.

‘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,’ he adds.

The work was funded by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission. In addition to the University of Leicester and the JRC, scientists from the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, contributed to the study.

For further information, please visit:

Source: CORDIS
Category: Project results
Data Source Provider: University of Leicester, UK
Document Reference: Tansey, K et al. (2008) A new, global, multi-annual (2000-2007) burnt area product at 1 km resolution. Geophysical Research Letters, 35, L01401, doi:10.1029/2007GL031567
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Earth Sciences; Meteorology; Scientific Research

RCN: 29480

Author: EARSC

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