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J Geophys Res Biogeosci. 2014 Apr;119(4):645-660. Epub 2014 Apr 28.

Management and climate contributions to satellite-derived active fire trends in the contiguous United States.

Author information

1
Department of Earth System Science, University of California Irvine, California, USA.
2
Michigan Tech Research Institute Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
3
Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland College Park, Maryland, USA.
4
Biospheric Sciences Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, Maryland, USA.

Abstract

Fires in croplands, plantations, and rangelands contribute significantly to fire emissions in the United States, yet are often overshadowed by wildland fires in efforts to develop inventories or estimate responses to climate change. Here we quantified decadal trends, interannual variability, and seasonality of Terra Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) observations of active fires (thermal anomalies) as a function of management type in the contiguous U.S. during 2001-2010. We used the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity database to identify active fires within the perimeter of large wildland fires and land cover maps to identify active fires in croplands. A third class of fires defined as prescribed/other included all residual satellite active fire detections. Large wildland fires were the most variable of all three fire types and had no significant annual trend in the contiguous U.S. during 2001-2010. Active fires in croplands, in contrast, increased at a rate of 3.4% per year. Cropland and prescribed/other fire types combined were responsible for 77% of the total active fire detections within the U.S and were most abundant in the south and southeast. In the west, cropland active fires decreased at a rate of 5.9% per year, likely in response to intensive air quality policies. Potential evaporation was a dominant regulator of the interannual variability of large wildland fires, but had a weaker influence on the other two fire types. Our analysis suggests it may be possible to modify landscape fire emissions within the U.S. by influencing the way fires are used in managed ecosystems.

KEY POINTS:

Wildland, cropland, and prescribed fires had different trends and patternsSensitivity to climate varied with fire typeIntensity of air quality regulation influenced cropland burning trends.

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