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Socioeconomics and fire regime in the Mediterranean

August 26th, 2017 No comments

In recent decades, fires in Mediterranean Europe have become larger and more frequent. This trend has been driven mainly by socioeconomic changes that have generated rural depopulation and changes in traditional land use. This has increased the amount and continuity of vegetation (fuel), and thus an increase in the fire size and area burnt [1-3]. In a recent paper [4] we compared fire statistics of the Western Rif (Morocco) with those form Valencia (eastern Spain) to show that current fire regimes in Mediterranean Africa resemble past fire regimes in the Mediterranean Europe when rural activities dominated the landscape. The temporal fire regime shift observed in different countries of the Mediterranean Europe (from small, fuel-limited fires to drought-driven fires) can be identified when moving from the southern to the northern rim of the Basin. That is, most spatial and temporal variability in fire regimes of the Mediterranean Basin is driven by shifts in the amounts of fuel and continuity imposed by changes in socioeconomic drivers (e.g., rural depopulation). In fact, we can use rural population density as an early warning for abrupt fire regime shift. Consequently we can predict future fire regimes in North Africa, based on the trends observed in southern Europe, and we can better understand past fire regimes in Europe based on the current situation in North Africa [4].


Figure 1. Western Rif (northern Morocco) and Valencia (eastern Spain).


Figure 2. Fire-size distribution in Valencia, for the period 1880-1970 (white boxes) and for the period 1975-2014 (grey boxes), and in the western Rif (red symbols, 2008-2015). For details see [4]

References

[1] Pausas, J.G. 2004. Changes in fire and climate in the eastern Iberian Peninsula (Mediterranean basin). Climatic Change 63: 337-350. [pdf | doi]

[2] Pausas J.G. & Fernández-Muñoz S. 2012. Fire regime changes in the Western Mediterranean Basin: from fuel-limited to drought-driven fire regime. Climatic Change 110: 215-226. [doi | springer | pdf]

[3] Pausas J.G. & Paula S. 2012. Fuel shapes the fire-climate relationship: evidence from Mediterranean ecosystems. Global Ecol. & Biogeogr. 21: 1074-1082. [doi | pdf | supp]  

[4] Chergui B., Fahd S., Santos X., Pausas J.G. 2017. Socioeconomic factors drive fire-regime variability in the Mediterranean Basin. Ecosystems [doi | pdf]

 

Fire danger, fire hazard, fire risk, …

August 5th, 2017 4 comments

Recently, a colleague ask me about the difference between fire hazard, fire risk and fire danger. I’m not an expert in these concepts, but here is my understanding of these and other related terms. In short, fire hazard is related to fuel (forestry), fire risk is often used for mapping probability of ignitions (geography) and fire danger in typically associated to weather conditions (meteorology); below is a longer answer. Feel free to improve or qualify these definitions by leaving a comments (see top right).

Fire weather: Weather conditions which influence fire ignition, behaviour, and suppression. E.g., extreme (or severe) fire weather refers to very low moisture, high temperatures and strong winds. Fire weather indices (FWI) can provide information for estimating the fire danger (see below).

Fire hazard: the degree of ease to fire ignition and propagation, and the resistance to control (given an ignition source). It depends on the quantity and continuity of the vegetation (fuel) and it is independent of the weather (in contrast to fire danger). It reflects the potential fire behaviour associated to static properties of fuel (fire hazard doesn’t change from one day to the next, in contrast to fire danger). Fire hazard reduction treatments refer to fuel treatments.

Fire risk: typically it refers to the probability of ignition, i.e., the chance that a fire might start. In can be split in lightning fire risk and human fire risk; the later typically decreases with distance to roads and increase with population density. Other authors define fire risk as potential damage (or degradation risk), and thus they include fire hazard and fire vulnerability in the concept of fire risk. Fire risk is relatively static (e.g., a zone with high fire risk), and often used to produce maps (fire risk mapping).

Fire danger: sum of the factors affecting the initiation, spread, and resistance to control in a given area; it is typically expressed as a semi-quantitative index (e.g., from very high to very low). Very often it largely depends on weather (i.e., moisture; sometimes also lightning activity) and reported by meteorological agencies. Because it considers the weather, fire danger is very dynamic (e.g. fire danger today; daily fire danger forecast). Note that if fire danger is based on weather only: (1) the fire danger may be very high in areas where the likelihood of having a fire is very low due to their low fuel (i.e., overestimation in arid ecosystems); (2) weather-based fire danger may fail to capture short-term increases in dead fuel due to strong droughts (underestimation); and consequently, (3) predictions of fire danger for the future under climatic warning may be questionable. A good prediction of fire danger should consider fire risk, fire weather and fire hazard (including fuel dynamics).

Fire damage: detrimental changes in value after a fire (e.g., ecological fire damage, social fire damage); i.e., it refers to negative fire effects. Note that fire may damage some species and favour other; also it depends on the temporal scale, as some short-term effects may be different from mid- or long-term effects.

Fire vulnerability: probability of fire damage; potential effects of fire on values. It is often presented as fire vulnerability maps. Ecological fire vulnerability is typically computed from the type of vegetation, soil and topography, to estimate postfire erosion risk and regeneration capacity.

Map of the Fire Danger Forecast for the Mediterranean region on the 5 Aug 2017 from the Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS, EFFIS-Copernicus). Darker heat colours indicate higher fire danger (green: very low). In fact, this is based on fire weather; note that it is not predicted for arid areas (white, in Africa) where the low biomass may produce extremely unrealistic results (it should probably be green). So it looks more a heat index than a fire danger index. I would also say that the palette of colors seems a bit too contrasted.

 

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