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Pacific Northwest Research Station
Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team


USDA Forest Service International Programs
U.S. Agency for International Development
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Photo of fire burning in Amazon forestBrasilFire 1998

Proposal and Work Plan

January 26, 1998


The Fire and Environmental Applications Research (FERA) Team (PNW) is continuing research in Brazil that started in 1993 as part of the Fire and Environmental Change project (PNW/PSW), as outlined in the implementing documentation for the USFS/IBAMA MOU. Funding for BRASILFIRE has been shared between Forest Service Research appropriations (65%) and a combination of USDA Forest Service, International Programs, and USAID funds (35%), although Forest Service Research funds are less in FY98. Brazil provides the opportunity for fire research and development in tropical ecosystems to complete a transect (i.e. the Transect of the Americas) of replicated studies in the boreal forests of interior Alaska and in temperate ecosystems in the western United States and Mexico.

FERA involves scientists at the

Our principal counterparts in Brazil have been

The fire program has also been closely aligned with fire managers in both countries (i.e. PREVFOGO).

In FY97, FERA completed and published manuscripts on evergreen tropical forest flammability and on rural community to air toxics in smoke in Rondonia. We completed fuels inventory and photography of 11 photo series sites at Emas National Park for new cerrado-region vegetation types. We initiated a new partnership with a Brazilian team lead by Dr. Joao Andrade de Carvalho from INPE. Three experimental burns were conducted in Alta Floresta, Mato Grosso, to study biomass combustion, fire physics, and flammability of the interface of the primary forest and deforested areas. We continued the methodological development of a fire risk model based on forest physiology, fire weather, and climate scenarios. We conducted the flammability experiments in primary forest in Alta Floresta to monitor fuel moisture drying rates, microclimate, and conducted small scale burns.
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BRASILFIRE has three principal components in each of the tropical ecosystems (i.e. in the Cerrado (including Campos and Cerradao), tropical forest (including evergreen, deciduous, and transitional types), Atlantic forest, and caatinga):

  • Fire Risk Assessment -- Assess the likelihood of fire occurrence and severity that threatens human values and/or ecosystem integrity, and how that risk would change with different climates, land-use patterns, and alternative management strategies. Each risk assessment involves a development of inventory techniques such as the photo series, development of models that predict fuel moisture from microclimate and vegetation structure, and models that predict biomass consumption and fire behavior in free-burning fires. Those results are used to develop a flammability model for each ecosystem and an extensive inventory of the conditions within each bioclimatic region. Finally, scenarios will be applied to assess the future risk under changing conditions.
  • Smoke Impact Assessment -- The smoke from the widespread burning in the tropical forest and the cerrado in Brazil cause widespread regional air pollution, significant contributions to greenhouse gas buildup in the global atmosphere, and constitute a serious human health risk. FERA collaborates with Phil Riggan (Pacific Southwest Research Station) Darold Ward (Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory), and Joao Andrade de Carvalho (INPE) by providing ground-truth support for the inventory and measurement of biomass combustion, air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. FERA has the lead for assessing human exposures and health risks, although that is not expected to be an emphasis in FY98. The large fires of 1997 in Brazil renewed interest and concern over the smoke and its effect on public health and welfare. Continued interest by the Brazilian government may lead to large support and a continuation of the original effort.
  • Ecological Role of Fire -- Fire plays a critical role in defining the transitional ecotone between the tropical forest and the cerrado, in maintaining the structure composition, and productivity of the various types of cerrado, and the structure of certain tropical forest types in the upper Amazon basin. Fire threatens the integrity of M. Atlantica and most M. Amazonica forests and some forests/woodlands that are habitat for endangered species (such as the Golden Tamarin Monkey). Cultural practices and climate change threaten to change the role of fire in all of these cases, and knowledge is insufficient at present to predict the ecological consequences of these changes. FERA is working with several other institutions to contribute to the basic and applied knowledge of the role of fire in these systems, and is supporting the Ph.D. research of Gustavo Negreiros.  
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Research Activities

Priority One, $30-$60K, Cerrado -- Our first priority is to complete the photo series and biomass consumption modeling in the cerrado ecosystems. We will participate in authoring a book on the ecology of the ecosystems and submit a progress report to our supporting agencies in the two countries. We will complete the analysis and integrate the results of the fuel inventory and fire effects studies at our principal research sites at the IBGE Reserve, Aguas Emendadas, and Emas National Park. The final set of 11 photo series sites will be inventoried and photographed in Chapada da Diamantina in the state of Bahia during the summer of 1998. These additional sites will complete the final phase of the photo series on the cerrado ecosystems with over 50 sites inventoried. The sites cover a transect of the moisture gradient within the cerrado ecosystems. A graduate student from the University of Brasilia will continue training in on fuels inventory with FERA’s field crew in the United States during the summer of 1998. We will start preparing the publication of the cerrado photo series in both English and Portuguese. We anticipate to finish the final report in 1999. In consultation with our Brazilian counterparts, we will develop a plan for the continuation of the photo series work to other Brazilian ecosystems.

Priority Two, $30-$90K ($60-$150K cumulative), Mata Amazonica/Cerrado Transition -- FERA will continue our investigation of the role of fire, biomass combustion, and fire risk assessment in the “Arc of Deforestation." The 1998 field campaign for this priority will be concentrated in Alta Floresta in the state of Mato Grosso in partnership with the Combustion and Propulsion Laboratory of the Instituto Nacional do Pesquisas Espacias (INPE). We will conduct the field and laboratory experiments on flammability and biomass combustion during the spring and summer of this year. Flammability experiments will be established on undisturbed primary forest , and on the edges of pastures and an experimental 2-ha slash burn. During the dry season we will monitor fuel moisture, microclimate, regional weather, fuel loading, canopy closure, and fire behavior that will allow us to identify the conditions necessary to sustain fire spread in closed-canopy forests in the Amazon forest. The purpose of establishing the flammability experiment on the edge of the biomass combustion experimental burns is also to measure the effect of heating from burning in adjacent clearings on the flammability of primary forest fuels. We will also test existing models for rating flammability in temperate forests under tropical conditions in the Amazon.

The study on combustion of topical biomass will be conducted in two 2-ha plots that will be inventoried and harvested during the spring of 1998. One plot will be burned during 1998. The second plot will be allowed to cure one more year and will be burn in the summer of 1999. The study’s outcome will be to develop predictive equations for the consumption of woody biomass by fires in the Brazilian Amazon. We will test predictive equations developed by the FERA team in Amazon slash burning in land clearings. We will develop and test a theoretical model for the consumption of woody debris in Amazon forests. A set of laboratory experiments on tropical biomass combustion will be conducted at INPE’s facilities in Cachoeira Paulista as well. The study results will improve the smoke emission estimates currently used for the Amazon burning and also will provide an estimate the amount of carbon sequestered in charcoal.

We intend to select sites to start the photo series development in Mata Amazonica in Alta Floresta and FLONA Tapajos. Arrangement for authorization and logistic support will be made with farm owners and FLONAS’s officers to begin the photo series work. We expect to complete the work in four years. We will continue the development of a fire risk model through the incorporation of data collected from previous year’s field campaigns, satellite imagery, soils, climate and vegetation data from Santana do Araguaia and Paragominas in the state of Para, and Alta Floresta in Mato Grosso. The outcome of this cooperative work with INPE will lead to the development of a fire-danger rating capability to anticipate the flammability of tropical forests and savannas, better guidelines for controlling the effects of fires in the Amazon Region, and an improved estimate of the carbon released and carbon sequestered by tropical ecosystems.

Priority Three, $30-$60K ($90-210K cumulative), M. Amazonica--Tapajos National Forest-- At this level of funding, FERA will begin the fire risk assessment and ecological assessment of fire in central Amazonia, collaborating with the International Institute of Tropical Forestry and the Tropical Forest Foundation to develop the intensive-site investigation into the ecology of secondary forests and the effect of low-impact harvesting there. The study is planned to be carried during the entire dry season and will last for four years to be able to capture the year-to-year variability. The fire risk assessment will complement the ecological and economical benefit analysis conducted by the Tropical Forestry Foundation (TFF) and International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF) on low-impact harvesting at the FLONA Tapajos.

Ordinarily, undisturbed tropical rain forest is considered a fireproof ecosystem. We have learned from previous field campaigns and problem analysis that primary and secondary forests in the Amazon region become flammable only after periods of a few weeks without precipitation allowing the surface fuels to dry out enough to carry fire. Severe fire can only occur during sustained drought when the standing vegetation, woody debris, and ground fuels (primarily rotten trunks) become dry enough to sustain smoldering combustion once ignited by a surface fire. In normally drier subregions, trees shed leaves to conserve moisture during very dry periods, allowing more light and wind to penetrate the canopy and hasten the drying of fuels. Yet, poorly known and probably variable by region are the effects of deforestation and logging on fire vulnerability of the primary and secondary forests. Our experience from the state of Para is that partial harvesting has the same effect of hastening the flammability of the surface fuels and the drying rate of the woody debris that control fire severity. However, traditional selective logged forest becomes more flammable and reaches dangerous levels faster than forest under a Low-Impact Harvesting regime during the dry season.

This work will assess the fire risk in a range of sites including primary and secondary forests, in traditionally-harvested and “low-impact harvesting” trials. Study plots will be established during the dry season to monitor fuel moisture, microclimate, regional weather, fuel loading, canopy disturbance, and fire behavior that will allow us to identify the conditions necessary to sustain fire spread in closed-canopy forests and logged forest in the Amazon. We will identify the thresholds of canopy disturbance, drought severity, and ignition patterns that make the forests marginally flammable and destructively flammable. Our plot design will be adapted to accommodate the forest inventory plots being used for the ecological and economical analysis of the FLONA Tapajos. Our study protocols include the ignition of small plots during the dry season to compare the flammability condition of undisturbed and disturbed forest.

Priority Four -- Other opportunities: If the opportunity arises, including outside funding and a continuation of Brazilian and Bolivian collaborator interest, FERA will initiate or resume work in the following areas:

  • Community Health Impacts from Smoke Exposure
  • Fire Risk Assessment in Mata. Atlantica, and
  • Tocantins Ecotones Study in collaboration with MMA
  • Extension of our fire work into the Bolivian Amazon and savannas. We will consider extending our work to Bolivia if enough financial and logistic support is provided by USAID/USFS International Programs and the Bolivia’s government officials to ensure a successful program there. We will also establish liaisons in Brazil to investigate the climatology of the region needed to provide the comprehensive regional fire risk assessment and global change assessment for the tropics.

Long Term Plans

FERA will continue collaborative research and development in Brazil as long as interest and funding is available, hopefully for ten years or more. BRASILFIRE represents about 10% of total FERA research and development. We enjoy a durable partnership with IBAMA, Universidad da Brasilia, and INPE, and are seeking other cooperators. BRASILFIRE is critical to fulfilling our mission of providing fire risk assessments, global change assessments, and air pollution impact assessments that can be applied consistently to any location in the world. It contributes to our domestic mission by providing an independent environment to test theories and models developed for temperate ecosystems, by attracting world-class cooperators that bring intellectual excellence to our domestic agenda, and by providing an efficient field laboratory that is simply not available in the United States. All of the models and assessments developed in Brazil will be equally applicable domestically. Ancillary benefits include knowledge and systems being made available to forest management and environmental quality improvement in Brazil, maintenance of world leadership in the modeling of vegetation systems response to environmental stress, and support for international policy analysis.


Research Publications -- FERA will continue to publish preliminary results at international symposia and final results in refereed journals. Joint authorship with Brazilian counterparts is sought on all publications.

Science and Management Reports -- All findings and management implications are interpreted in products such as videotapes, brochures, guidebooks, and user manuals targeted specifically to the end-user. FERA has developed an array of Portuguese-language products for use by our cooperators.

Modeling and Expertise -- FERA provides unique expertise and modeling skills in the science of wildland fire, climatology, and air quality to interdisciplinary teams. In turn, we gain access to the ecological, sociological, and policy expertise of our partners. Together, we provide a rigorous, global, consistent capacity to conduct scientific assessments in support of policy analysis.

Last updated: January 28, 1998

For further information, contact:
Dr. David Sandberg, Team Leader
3200 SW Jefferson Way, Corvallis, Oregon 97331 USA
(541)750-7265; (541)758-7760 fax
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