Varying relationships between fire radiative power and fire size at a global scale Academic Article uri icon

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  • Abstract. Vegetation fires are an important process in the Earth system. Fire intensity locally impacts fuel consumption, damage to the vegetation, chemical composition of fire emissions and also how fires spread across landscapes. It has been observed that fire occurrence, defined as the frequency of active fires detected by the MODIS sensor, is related to intensity with a hump-shaped empirical relation, meaning that occurrence reaches a maximum at intermediate fire intensity. Raw burned area products obtained from remote sensing can not discriminate between ignition and propagation processes. To go beyond burned area and to test if fire size is driven by fire intensity at a global scale as expected from empirical fire spread models, we used the newly delivered global FRY database, which provides fire patch functional traits based on satellite observation, including fire patch size, and the fire radiative power measures from the MCD14ML dataset. This paper describes the varying relationships between fire size and fire radiative power across biomes at a global scale. We show that in most fire regions of the world defined by the GFED database, the linear relationship between fire radiative power and fire patch size saturates for a threshold of intermediate-intensity fires. The value of this threshold differs from one region to another and depends on vegetation type. In the most fire-prone savanna regions, once this threshold is reached, fire size decreases for the most intense fires, which mostly happen in the late fire season. According to the percolation theory, we suggest that the decrease in fire size for more intense late season fires is a consequence of the increasing fragmentation of fuel continuity throughout the fire season and suggest that landscape-scale feedbacks should be developed in global fire modules.


  • Laurent, Pierre
  • Mouillot, Florent
  • Moreno, Maria Vanesa
  • Yue, Chao
  • Ciais, Philippe

publication date

  • January 22, 2019