Assessing variability and long-term trends in burned area by merging multiple satellite fire products
Long term, high quality estimates of burned area are needed for improving both prognostic and diagnostic fire emissions models and for assessing feedbacks between fire and the climate system. We developed global, monthly burned area estimates aggregated to 0.5° spatial resolution for the time period July 1996 through mid-2009 using four satellite data sets. From 2001–2009, our primary data source was 500-m burned area maps produced using Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) surface reflectance imagery; more than 90% of the global area burned during this time period was mapped in this fashion. During times when the 500-m MODIS data were not available, we used a combination of local regression and regional regression trees developed over periods when burned area and Terra MODIS active fire data were available to indirectly estimate burned area. Cross-calibration with fire observations from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Visible and Infrared Scanner (VIRS) and the Along-Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR) allowed the data set to be extended prior to the MODIS era. With our data set we estimated that the global annual area burned for the years 1997–2008 varied between 330 and 431 Mha, with the maximum occurring in 1998. We compared our data set to the recent GFED2, L3JRC, GLOBCARBON, and MODIS MCD45A1 global burned area products and found substantial differences in many regions. Lastly, we assessed the interannual variability and long-term trends in global burned area over the past 13 years. This burned area time series serves as the basis for the third version of the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED3) estimates of trace gas and aerosol emissions.