Journal cover Journal topic
Geoscientific Model Development An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Geosci. Model Dev., 10, 4443-4476, 2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Model description paper
06 Dec 2017
A data-driven approach to identify controls on global fire activity from satellite and climate observations (SOFIA V1)
Matthias Forkel1, Wouter Dorigo1, Gitta Lasslop2, Irene Teubner1, Emilio Chuvieco3, and Kirsten Thonicke4 1Climate and Environmental Remote Sensing Group, Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation, Technische Universität Wien, Gusshausstraße 27–29, 1040 Vienna, Austria
2Department of Land in the Earth System, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstr. 53, 20146 Hamburg, Germany
3Department of Geology, Geography and the Environment, University of Alcalá, Colegios 2, 28801 Alcalá de Henares, Spain
4Department of Earth System Analysis, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Telegraphenberg A62, 14412 Potsdam, Germany
Abstract. Vegetation fires affect human infrastructures, ecosystems, global vegetation distribution, and atmospheric composition. However, the climatic, environmental, and socioeconomic factors that control global fire activity in vegetation are only poorly understood, and in various complexities and formulations are represented in global process-oriented vegetation-fire models. Data-driven model approaches such as machine learning algorithms have successfully been used to identify and better understand controlling factors for fire activity. However, such machine learning models cannot be easily adapted or even implemented within process-oriented global vegetation-fire models. To overcome this gap between machine learning-based approaches and process-oriented global fire models, we introduce a new flexible data-driven fire modelling approach here (Satellite Observations to predict FIre Activity, SOFIA approach version 1). SOFIA models can use several predictor variables and functional relationships to estimate burned area that can be easily adapted with more complex process-oriented vegetation-fire models. We created an ensemble of SOFIA models to test the importance of several predictor variables. SOFIA models result in the highest performance in predicting burned area if they account for a direct restriction of fire activity under wet conditions and if they include a land cover-dependent restriction or allowance of fire activity by vegetation density and biomass. The use of vegetation optical depth data from microwave satellite observations, a proxy for vegetation biomass and water content, reaches higher model performance than commonly used vegetation variables from optical sensors. We further analyse spatial patterns of the sensitivity between anthropogenic, climate, and vegetation predictor variables and burned area. We finally discuss how multiple observational datasets on climate, hydrological, vegetation, and socioeconomic variables together with data-driven modelling and model–data integration approaches can guide the future development of global process-oriented vegetation-fire models.

Citation: Forkel, M., Dorigo, W., Lasslop, G., Teubner, I., Chuvieco, E., and Thonicke, K.: A data-driven approach to identify controls on global fire activity from satellite and climate observations (SOFIA V1), Geosci. Model Dev., 10, 4443-4476,, 2017.
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Wildfires affect infrastructures, vegetation, and the atmosphere. However, it is unclear how fires should be accurately represented in global vegetation models. We introduce here a new flexible data-driven fire modelling approach that allows us to explore sensitivities of burned areas to satellite and climate datasets. Our results suggest combining observations with data-driven and process-oriented fire models to better understand the role of fires in the Earth system.
Wildfires affect infrastructures, vegetation, and the atmosphere. However, it is unclear how...