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Wildfire science is at a loss for comprehensive data

David Bowman

An international monitoring initiative is crucial for understanding wildfires and reducing their damage, says David Bowman.

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[...] we can say little for certain about trends in wildfires worldwide. Data are too scant to say conclusively whether fires are becoming more destructive. If humans are to live sustainably on flammable landscapes, we need a global system for collecting data on fires to gain a coherent picture and assess strategies. [...] Yet the strong links between humans and flammable landscapes make fire a natural hazard like no other. We can both amplify and dampen the cycle by setting fires and fighting them. So a longer fire season does not necessarily mean more fires. [...] Satellite imaging has revolutionized our understanding of fire activity: it has provided global data on areas burnt and on variations from season to season regarding when fires occur and how large they grow. But satellite imagery is imperfect. [...] To gain a comprehensive view, we need an initiative similar to the confederation of national meteorological networks that monitors daily weather conditions. [...] Comparative analysis of fire activity became possible in Europe only in 2004, with the advent of the European Union’s fire database, which contains data from 22 nations. [...] A global clearing house that monitors landscape fires could record the types of vegetation burnt, how severely, over what area and with what loss of life and property. [...]


Nature, Vol. 560, No. 7716. (31 July 2018), pp. 7-7, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-05840-4 
Key: INRMM:14621080

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