Articles | Volume 11, issue 6
Research article
19 Mar 2014
Research article |  | 19 Mar 2014

Fractal properties of forest fires in Amazonia as a basis for modelling pan-tropical burnt area

I. N. Fletcher, L. E. O. C. Aragão, A. Lima, Y. Shimabukuro, and P. Friedlingstein

Abstract. Current methods for modelling burnt area in dynamic global vegetation models (DGVMs) involve complex fire spread calculations, which rely on many inputs, including fuel characteristics, wind speed and countless parameters. They are therefore susceptible to large uncertainties through error propagation, but undeniably useful for modelling specific, small-scale burns. Using observed fractal distributions of fire scars in Brazilian Amazonia in 2005, we propose an alternative burnt area model for tropical forests, with fire counts as sole input and few parameters. This model is intended for predicting large-scale burnt area rather than looking at individual fire events. A simple parameterization of a tapered fractal distribution is calibrated at multiple spatial resolutions using a satellite-derived burnt area map. The model is capable of accurately reproducing the total area burnt (16 387 km2) and its spatial distribution. When tested pan-tropically using the MODIS MCD14ML active fire product, the model accurately predicts temporal and spatial fire trends, but the magnitude of the differences between these estimates and the GFED3.1 burnt area products varies per continent.

Final-revised paper