Forest Fire

The Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite captured this image of smoke from wildfires in the US state of California on 9 October 2017. Image: 	contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Definition

Wildfire, also called forest, bush or vegetation fire, can be described as any uncontrolled and non-prescribed combustion or burning of plants in a natural setting such as a forest, grassland, brush land or tundra, which consumes the natural fuels and spreads based on environmental conditions (e.g., wind, topography). Wildfire can be incited by human actions, such as land clearing, extreme drought or in rare cases by lightning (IRDR).

There are three conditions that need to be present in order for a wildfire to burn: fuel, oxygen, and a heat source. Fuel is any flammable material surrounding a fire, including trees, grasses, brush, even homes. The greater an area's fuel load, the more intense the fire. Air supplies the oxygen a fire needs to burn. Heat sources help spark the wildfire and bring fuel to temperatures hot enough to ignite. Lightning, burning campfires or cigarettes, hot winds, and even the sun can all provide sufficient heat to spark a wildfire (National Geographic).

Facts and figures

The Global Wildland Fire Network Bulletin published by the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) presents the most recent data regarding consequences of wildfire: in 2017, 36 fires in protected areas were recorded in 19 countries burning more than 196000 hectares worldwide.

Wildfire plays a mixed role for ecology and economy since some ecosystems depend on natural fires to maintaining their dynamics, biodiversity and productivity. However, every year, wildfires burn millions of hectares of forest woodlands and other vegetation, causing the loss of many human and animal lives and an immense economic damage, both in terms of resources destroyed and the costs of suppression. There are also impacts on society and the environment, such as damage to human health from smoke, loss of biological diversity, release of  greenhouse gases, damage to recreational values and infrastructure (FAO).

Most fires are caused by people. The list of human motivations include land clearing and other agricultural activities, maintenance of grasslands for livestock management, extraction of non-wood forest products, industrial development, resettlement, hunting, negligence and arson. Only in very remote areas of Canada and the Russian Federation lightning is a major cause of fires (FAO).

There are three basic types of wildfires:

  • Crown fires burn trees up their entire length to the top. These are the most intense and dangerous wildland fires.
  • Surface fires burn only surface litter and duff. These are the easiest fires to put out and cause the least damage to the forest.
  • Ground fires (sometimes called underground or subsurface fires) occur in deep accumulations of humus, peat and similar dead vegetation that become dry enough to burn. These fires move very slowly, but can become difficult to fully put out, or suppress (Government of Canada).

Related content

Event

Forest Mapping and Monitoring with SAR Data. Image: NASA

This advanced webinar series will introduce participants to:

1) SAR time series analysis of forest change using Google Earth Engine (GEE)

2) land cover classification with radar and optical data with GEE

3) mapping mangroves with SAR

4) forest stand height estimation with SAR

Each training will include a theoretical portion describing the use of SAR for landcover mapping as related to the focus of the session followed by a demonstration that will show participants how to access, download, and analyze SAR data for forest mapping and monitoring. These demonstrations will use freely-available, open-source data and software

The webinar is divided in 4 parts:

1)... read more

Image: NASA.

This webinar will focus on a NASA instrument that was launched and installed on the International Space Station in summer 2018. Designed to study terrestrial ecosystems and plant water stress from the ISS, ECOSTRESS can also be used to better understand crop health, volcanoes, urban heat, wildland fires, coastal systems, and much more. 

The primary science and applications mission of ECOSTRESS is to address three critical questions around vegetation health and agriculture:

  1. How is the terrestrial biosphere responding to changes in water availability?
  2. How do changes in... read more

Advisory Support

At the request of, and in coordination with the National Civil Protection Office of Tunisia, UN-SPIDER is conducting a Technical Advisory Mission to Tunisia from 4 to 6 March 2020 to identify the needs of the country to fully take advantage of space-based information for disaster management. In order to discuss the use of space-based information for risk and disaster management to subsequently make recommendations on improvements, the expert team meets with key disaster management authorities in the country.

The mission is conducted with the support of experts from the Algerian Space Agency (ASAL); the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA); the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA); the National Observatory of Athens (NOA); and an expert on the Copernicus Emergency Management Service. The mission team is also benefiting from the support of the Chief of Space Applications of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

As part of the mission, the team of experts will visit several institutions including the National Office of Civil Protection; the Directorate General for Forests of the Ministry of Agriculture; the Faculty of Sciences of Tunis, University of Tunis El Manar; the National Agronomic Institute of Tunisia; the National Institute of Meteorology; as well as at the Ministry of Local Affairs and Environment. Meetings will also be conducted with representatives of the National Cartographic and Remote Sensing Centre of Tunisia and other organizations. In addition, the TAM team will meet the United Nations Country Team in Tunisia, which supports disaster management efforts in the country.

During the TAM, a workshop with over 20 participants from nine institutions will take place in order to present the UN-SPIDER programme to Tunisian counterparts involved in disaster management, and encourage inter-institutional cooperation and sharing of geospatial information among them.

UN-SPIDER aims at ensuring all countries have the capacity to use all types of space-based information to support risk and disaster management efforts. To make sure that all interested stakeholders can benefit from this information in the most effective way possible, UN-SPIDER provides Technical Advisory Support to Member States through missions such as this one.

The Algerian Space Agency (ASAL), the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) and the National Observatory of Athens (NOA) are UN-SPIDER Regional Support Office.

Mission dates: 04/03/2020 to 06/03/2020

UN-SPIDER Training Activity

Flood mapping with Sentinel-1 radar data | Date of training: 09/03/2020 to 11/03/2020

News

Participants during the training on flood mapping using SNAP and QGIS.

To support the National Office of Civil Protection (ONPC) of Tunisia and other government agencies in using space-based information for disaster management, UN-SPIDER conducted a three-day training in Tunis from 9 to 11 March. The course highlighted the relevance and usefulness of... read more

Publishing date: 10/03/2020
3D visualization of the Australian smoke plumes. Image: NASA.

When analysing wildfires and their impacts, remote sensing instruments provide frequent, broad coverage at minimal incremental cost and at no risk, compared with traditional in situ monitoring. Over the past 20 years, the research community has developed tools and techniques to capture key aspects of fire behavior and impacts, with data from spaceborne instruments such as the Multiangle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR).

The NASA Disasters Program, in cooperation with the Active Aerosol Plume-height (AAP) project, has developed the first-ever interactive 3D map of MISR fire plume-height... read more

Publishing date: 03/02/2020

Major disasters such as droughts and wildfires are driven by the dryness of vegetation. To enhance the monitoring of plant water stress, NASA launched and installed a new sensor on the International Space Station. ECOSTRESS (ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station) allows identifying loss of water in leaves- even before they show visible signs of trouble.

The image to the left shows a product derived from ECOSTRESS data, indicating that the forest fires during the 2019 Amazon dry season... read more

Publishing date: 14/11/2019

Recommended Practices

This Recommended Practice aims to (1) conduct a supervised land cover classification in QGIS using the SCP plugin and (2) to conduct change detection analysis. These skills are applicable to a vast range of disasters throughout the entire disaster management cycle. In this example, the remote sensing technique is applied to monitor deforestation in a part of the Amazon rainforest south of Santarém, Pará, in Brazil. However, it can be applied to any other study area. The required inputs are two or more satellite images of the same area at a different point in time. This will result in an...

Data Source

Publishing institution: Joint Research Center, European Commission (JRC)
GIS Malawi is a webmapper which provides various vector and raster layers covering a broad range of topics including natural hazards.
Screenshot of GEDI
Publishing institution: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) produces high resolution laser ranging observations of the 3D structure of the Earth. GEDI’s precise measurements of forest canopy height, canopy vertical structure, and surface elevation greatly advance our ability to characterize important carbon and water cycling processes, biodiversity, and habitat. GEDI’s data on surface structure are valuable for weather forecasting, forest management, glacier and snowpack monitoring, and the generation of more accurate digital elevation models.

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