Size of wildfires in the Euro-Mediterranean region: Observations and theoretical analysis

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Abstract

MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) satellite observations of fire size and ERA-Interim meteorological reanalysis are used to derive a relationship between burnt area and wind speed over the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe. The largest wildfire size does not show a strong response with respect to wind speed in Eastern Europe. In the Mediterranean, as intuitively expected, the burnt area associated with the largest wildfires is an increasing function of wind speed for moderate temperature anomalies. In situations of severe heatwaves, the relationship between burnt area and wind speed displays a bimodal shape. Burnt areas are large for low 10 m wind speed (lower than 2 m s-1), decrease for moderate wind speed values (lower than 5 m s-1 and larger than 2 m s-1) and increase again for high wind speed (higher than 5 m s-1). To explain such behavior we use a stochastic model of fire propagation, known as a probabilistic cellular automata. This model uses a probabilistic local rule to derive the total burnt area. The observed relationship between burnt area and wind speed can be interpreted in terms of percolation threshold above which the propagation in the model is infinite, which mainly depends on local terrain slope and vegetation state (type, density, fuel moisture). In Eastern Europe, the percolation threshold is never exceeded for observed wind speeds. In the Mediterranean Basin we see two behaviors. During moderately hot weather, the percolation threshold is passed when the wind grows strong. On the other hand, in situations of severe Mediterranean heatwaves, moderate wind speed values impair the propagation of the wildfire against the wind and do not sufficiently accelerate the forward propagation to allow a growth of wildfire size.

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Hernandez, C., Drobinski, P., Turquety, S., & Dupuy, J. L. (2015). Size of wildfires in the Euro-Mediterranean region: Observations and theoretical analysis. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 15(6), 1331–1341. https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-15-1331-2015

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