A Scorched Earth Shows its "Fire Scars"

An area equivalent to the European Union -- roughly 3.5 to 4.5 million sq. km -- burns every year, according to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (sub. required). Kevin Tansey, a geographer at the University of Leicester, and a team of international researchers have produced the first map showing the Earth's "fire scars" between 2000 and 2007.How is this useful? As Tansey explains, the seven years of data his map provides will help scientists determine if there is an increasing occurrence of fires worldwide -- and if these trends are related to global warming and changing atmospheric pollutant concentrations. It will also help policymakers and researchers engaged in forestry management and fire prevention and could help prepare for future fire events.

To create the map, Tansey and his colleagues used the SPOT satellite's VEGETATION system, which collects reflected solar energy from the Earth's surface to enable continuous monitoring of (you guessed it) global vegetation.

"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," Tansey explains.

Most fires happen in Africa, where large tracts of savannah grasslands are burnt every year. However, because the grass regenerates quickly during the wet season, the grasslands, on balance, aren't considered a major carbon source. The fires we should be more concerned about, according to Tansey, are those in forests because the affected areas take many years to recover.

While it's hard to establish a direct link between global warming and any particular fire incident, it's clear is that fires will only become more prevalent over the coming decades as the climate becomes drier in many regions of the world. Recently, we've seen several major fires in Southern California and other drought-prone areas in the Southwest, with more likely to come in the ensuing months.

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Via ::ScienceDaily: Scorched Earth Millenium Map Shows 'Fire Scars' (news website)

See also: ::Global Warming or Not: The Debate Over California's Wildfires, ::A Picture is Worth... Greek Fires From Space