Author(s): Paul Pickell & Nicholas Coops
Published in: Scientific Reports (October 27, 2017)
An early warning system to forecast the close of the spring burning window from satellite-observed greenness
The majority of wildfires in Alberta are caused by humans, resulting in unnecessary costs associated with extinguishing them. Human-caused wildfires tend to occur during what is known as the spring burning window, the early part of the growing season when snow cover is melting, exposing leafless vegetation susceptible to burning. The timing of when vegetation begins growing and producing new leaves is a critical limiting factor for fire spread because new leaves are a significant source of moisture and act as a natural fire break.
We tracked the timing of when vegetation began producing new leaves in the springtime from near-weekly satellite observations from 2000-2016. The timing of vegetation greening supported our observations in the human-caused fire statistics across all years. We then simulated the availability of satellite data on a weekly basis starting in February to test how reliable an operational system would be at forecasting new leaf growth. We found that the early warning system could reliably predict the timing of new leaf growth with 10 days of accuracy by late March for 80% of the fire-protected forests of Alberta. This was a significant result because the official fire season starts in April. Using our early warning system, fire managers can potentially know when and where human-caused fire activity is likely to be most dangerous before the fire season even begins.
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