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Space-Based Fire Effects Mapping

The view of an in-fire sensor that measures the heating environment.

Scientists are building capacity to do space-based fire effects mapping and post-fire monitoring as a means of strengthening ongoing national programs. A key part of that effort is figuring out how to predict fire effects from remotely-sensed information. Results of a recent study demonstrate one approach.

Mortality of shrub and tree stems is generally the most visible impact of wildland fires and often the most important ecologically. Remotely-sensed measurements, whether from sensors on aircraft or spacecraft, are attractive for their ability to map fuels, fire behavior, and vegetation over large areas. In a recent refereed publication, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station (NRS) scientists and collaborators relate airborne fire radiation measurements to the heating environment in fires measured with ground-based sensors and the effects of heating on an important tree species. Ground-based heating measurements were collected during prescribed fires in longleaf pine savanna and open ranges at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida as part of the Prescribed Fire Combustion and Atmospheric Dynamics Research Experiment (RxCADRE), a multi-scientist, coordinated measurements campaign. Scientists used tower and airborne radiation measurements to predict turkey oak stem mortality as a function of in-fire heating using the FireStem2D model developed by the NRS, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, and Ohio State University. Turkey oak is a common tree species throughout fire-maintained forests in the southeastern United States and prescribed fire was expected to kill stems up to a little over 2 inches in savanna where fuel loads and fire energy were greater in contrast to an upper limit of 1 inch in range fires. Tree seedling growth rates and fuel accumulation rates then determine how often fire must be applied to maintain herbaceous dominance. Development of models that use remote sensing to predict fire effects, here demonstrated for remotely-sensed fire radiation, is building capacity for space-based fire effects mapping and post-fire monitoring to meet national mandates more efficiently.