Frequency, patchiness, and intensity of tropical savanna fires: analysis using field data and remote sensing

Frequency, patchiness, and intensity of tropical savanna fires: analysis using field data and remote sensing

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 10:00 to 11:00

About the Presenter

Sofia Oliveira graduated in Forestry at the School of Agriculture, University of Lisbon, Portugal (2004) and completed a M.Sc. in Natural Resources Management and Conservation (2008) at the same university. Sofia worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Mediterranean Forest Ecosystems and Forest Products Technology, Athens, Greece (2004-2005), at the Tropical Research Institute of Lisbon, Portugal (2005-2007) and at the Forest Research Centre, University of Lisbon, Portugal (2008). In 2009 she was awarded a Ph.D. grant from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology to study fire regimes in tropical savannas using field data and remote sensing. This research was developed at the University of Lisbon, with the collaboration of Bushfires NT and Charles Darwin University, Australia, and Sofia spent the following years between Lisbon and Darwin. This Ph.D. was completed in January 2014. Sofia’s primary research topics include fire ecology and management, fire risk mapping, remote sensing of burnt areas and land cover using satellite data and Geographical Information Systems (GIS), study of forest fire regimes and their spatial and temporal dynamics at a regional scale, and the roles of climate and land cover.


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In tropical savannas, one of the most fire-prone biomes on Earth, fire management is a continuous and iterative process that can only be effectively achieved with thorough consideration of fire regimes. Based on remotely sensed imagery and in-situ field data, key fire regime components were assessed for tropical savannas of northern Australia (frequency, patchiness, intensity, and severity) and Brazil (frequency). The discrete lognormal model was found to be the best method for modelling fire frequency in tropical savannas, and demonstrated that fire frequency is very high in both countries. In northern Australia, fire patchiness was lower in the late dry season, characterized by shorter and fewer unburned patches, than in the early dry season. Fire intensity and severity were highest in the late dry season. The observed temporal differences are consistent with the hypothesis that climate is the main driver of fire regime seasonality. Fuel load and fuel continuity explained fire regime differences between vegetation types. Fire season was bimodal, with peaks in May and October, related to periods of anthropogenic fire and optimal fire weather conditions. Prescribed burning in the early dry season can increase the patchiness and reduce the intensity of late dry season fires, with substantial benefits for biodiversity and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

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