Bartsch, A, Balzter, H, George, C (2009). The influence of regional surface soil moisture anomalies on forest fires in Siberia observed from satellites. ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS, 4(4), 45021.
Forest fires are frequent in the Siberian taiga and are predicted to increase in frequency as a result of increased fire risk under drought conditions, and prolonged fire seasons caused by climate change. There is, however, some uncertainty as to the extent to which drought influences forest fire frequency at a regional scale. Here, we present an analysis of satellite derived soil moisture anomaly data from ERS-1/2 (ERS: Earth Resources Satellite) scatterometer data and burned area maps from MODIS/AVHRR/ATSR (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer/Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer/Along-Track Scanning Radiometer) over Central Siberia for the years 1992-2000. The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship of remotely sensed soil moisture deviations from the long-term mean and fire within the boreal biome on a sub-continental scale. Results show that wet surface soil moisture conditions limit the extent of burned area. They can prevent the outbreak of fires but the magnitude of a negative (dry) deviation does not determine the maximum size of fire affected areas. It is known from the literature, however, that an ignition is more likely to occur under low surface wetness conditions, such as those that we observed during July and August in both permafrost and non-permafrost regions. Although the burned area under drier conditions in July is lowest over non-permafrost, the actual number of fires is as high as over continuous permafrost. Approximately 80% of all events occurred under such conditions during that month. The fire size was below 50 km(2) under moist conditions. Larger burned areas have in general not been detected when the surface wetness deviation exceeded +5%.