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University of KwaZulu-Natal (2014)

Monitoring fire danger in near real-time using field-based agrometeorological measurement systems

Strydom, Sheldon

Titre : Monitoring fire danger in near real-time using field-based agrometeorological measurement systems

Auteur : Strydom, Sheldon.

Université de soutenance : University of KwaZulu-Natal

Grade : Master of Science (M. Sc. Agric.) 2014

Résumé partiel
Africa has been termed the ‘Fire Continent’ due to its high annual fire frequency. Wildfires are considered one of the most common disasters in South Africa resulting in a high number of human fatalities and financial loss on an annual basis. It is believed that increased population growth, as well as more concentrated settlement planning is likely to result in increased fire disasters and increased human fatalities as a direct result of wildfires. The high number of human fatalities and high financial loss associated with wildfires served as the main motivation for the research throughout all studies. While wildfires may provide beneficial environmental service, increased wildfire activity can result in a number of adverse effects on the environment, for example the removal of vegetation, fascilitating/aggravating floods and soil erosion but do bring with them positive effects such as nutrient recycling and removal of alien species. In order to better understand the spatial and temporal variations and characteristics of wildfires in South Africa an 11-year dataset of MODIS-derived Active Fire Hotspots was analysed using an open source geographic information system. The study included the mapping of national fire frequency over the 11-year period. Results indicate that the north-eastern regions of South Africa experience the greatest fire frequency, in particular the mountainous regions of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape. Increasing trends in provincial fire frequency was observed in eight out of the nine provinces with Mpumalanga being the only province where a decrease in annual fire frequency over the study period was observed. Temporally, fires have been observed in all months for all provinces although distinct fire seasons were observed, largely driven by rainfall seasons. The South-Western regions of South Africa (winter rainfall patterns) experienced higher fire frequencies during the summer months with the rest of the country (summer rainfall) experiencing higher fire frequencies during the winter months. Regions which experience bi-modal rainfall seasons did not display distinct fire seasons. The study included an investigation into the likely effects of climate change on South African fire frequency. Three of the 11 years were identified as being climatologically anomalous. Fire frequencies in 2005 and 2010 (two of the warmest years in recent history) were significantly greater than normal years. Observed fire frequencies in 2008 were also significantly greater. The increased fire frequency was attributed to a severe La Niña event which may have resulted in increased vegetation growth prior to the dry season. A current issue with the mitigation of wildfires is the lack of proper real-time monitoring and measurement systems which can aid decision makers in the timing of controlled fires.

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