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A Satellite Model of Forest Flammability


We describe a model of forest flammability, based on daily satellite observations, for national to regional applications. The model defines forest flammability as the percent moisture content of fuel, in the form of litter of varying sizes on the forest floor. The model uses formulas from the US Forest Service that describe moisture exchange between fuel and the surrounding air and precipitation. The model is driven by estimates of temperature, humidity, and precipitation from the moderate resolution imaging spectrometer and tropical rainfall measuring mission multi-satellite precipitation analysis. We provide model results for the southern Amazon and northern Chaco regions. We evaluate the model in a tropical forest-to-woodland gradient in lowland Bolivia. Results from the model are significantly correlated with those from the same model driven by field climate measurements. This model can be run in a near real-time mode, can be applied to other regions, and can be a cost-effective input to national fire management programs.

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This study was supported by a Grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA Grant # NAG13-02008). We thank Geoffrey Blate for his support in compiling the field data, George Huffman and Louis Giglio for providing expert advice during the development of this model, Tim Killeen and the Museo Noel Kempff Mercado for logistical support, the Fundacion Amigos de la Naturaleza (FAN), the Bolivia Forestry project (BOLFOR), and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for access to field sites.

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Correspondence to Marc K. Steininger.



See Table 2.

Table 2 Abbreviations and terms in equations

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Steininger, M.K., Tabor, K., Small, J. et al. A Satellite Model of Forest Flammability. Environmental Management 52, 136–150 (2013).

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  • Tropical forest
  • Fire risk
  • Drought
  • Remote sensing
  • Amazon
  • Bolivia