Verbesselt, J., Fleck, S., & Coppin, P. (2002) Estimation of fuel moisture content towards Fire Risk Assessment: A review. Forest Fire Research & Wildland Fire Safety, Vlegas (ed.). Millpress, Rotterdam, 1-11
Growing up we’ve all heard the phrase “only you can prevent forest fires” from the iconic Smokey the Bear warning about the dangers of reckless behavior in campsites and along hiking trails. A team of three scientists took Smokey’s words to heart as they tackled how fires really can be prevented.
In “Estimation of fuel moisture content towards Fire Risk Assessment: A review”, Verbesselt, Fleck, and Coppin investigate the probability of vegetation igniting based on the fuel moisture content (FMC). They argue that by analyzing the moisture content in vegetation, estimates can be drawn as to what areas of land would most likely catch on fire. With these estimates, preparations can be made to prevent the ignition of vegetation as well as stopping the spread if caught on fire.
To investigate, Verbesselt et al. used both optical and thermal remote sensing. For optical remote sensing, estimations were made to identify the water content from variations in a leaf. Thermal remote sensing identified how much water is evaporated from a leaf. They achieved this by looking at atmospheric correlations, energy resistance models, as well as the climate and surface variables.
In the graph above, Verbesselt et al. plotted the relationship between the surface temperature and the NDVI (measurement to see if vegetation is dead or not). The graph removed variables such as clouds and areas of water which could have heavily skewed the results. Vegetation like that of a grassland got to very high temperatures with very little NDVI whereas open forests clumped with a moderate surface temperature and high NDVI.
The results were reflected by the data: vegetation with shallow root systems and scattered placement (grasslands) were more likely to show the FMC to ignite than vegetation with deep root systems and clumped placement (forests). Be that as it may, Verbesselt et al. concluded that variables such as time of day, weather and climate could effect the probability of vegetation igniting.
Based on the article, this could potentially be used to fine tune the preservation of natural parks, protected lands, agriculture as well as residential areas. Smokey really was right saying that prevention is the key to stopping forest fires...and a little mapping.