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Tracking Fires in India Using Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (A)ATSR Data

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Tracking Fires in India Using Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (A)ATSR Data
   Remote Sensing   2010 , 2 , 591-610; doi:10.3390/rs2020591  Remote Sensing ISSN 2072-4292  Article Tracking Fires in India Using Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (A)ATSR Data Amarnath Giriraj 1,2,3, *, Shilpa Babar 1,4 , Anke Jentsch 5 , Singuluri Sudhakar 1 and Manchi Sri Ramachandra Murthy 1 1  Forestry and Ecology Division, National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad 500 037, India; E-Mails: (S.S.); (M.S.R.) 2  Department of Biogeography, University of Bayreuth, D-95440, Bayreuth, Germany 3  MENRIS Division, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, GPO Box 3226, Kathmandu, Nepal; E-Mail: 4  Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Pune, Pune 411 007, India; E-Mail: 5  Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research UFZ, Leipzig 04318, Germany; E-Mail: * Author to whom correspondence should be addressed; E-Mail:; Tel.: +977-1-500-3222; Fax: +977-1-500-3299.   Received: 1 December 2009; in revised form: 27 January 2010 / Accepted: 1 February 2010 / Published: 24 February 2010 Abstract: Forest fires pose a threat more serious than illegal felling in developing countries and are a cause of major concern for environmental security. Fires in tropical forests, though not devastating on a large scale as compared to large and infrequent fires in boreal or Mediterranean systems, still cause loss to biodiversity and economic and monetary value. In India, human-induced forest fires increasingly affect legally protected nature conservation areas. An array of satellite sensors that are now available can be deployed to monitor such events on a global and local scale. The present study uses night-time Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (A)ATSR satellite data from the last nine years to identify high fire-prone zones, fire affected areas in protected zones and the distribution of these incidents in relation to bio-geographic zones. Central India, with its vegetation type that is just right for fire ignition and spread, was observed to be the most severely affected area with maximum fire incidences. The bio-geographic zone comprising this area  –  such as the Deccan peninsula, which includes provinces like Central Highlands, Eastern Highlands, Central OPEN ACCESS    Remote Sensing 2010 , 2   592 Plateau and Chhota Nagpur  –  was observed to be the most affected, accounting for approximately 36% of the total fire occurrences during the period 1997  –  2005. In protected areas, 778 fire incidents were observed within the last eight years. Comparison of (A)ATSR fire locations with MODIS active fire data for the Western Ghats (mainly of tropical evergreen forests and savannahs) and the Eastern Ghats (tropical deciduous) showed a spatial agreement of 72% with a minimum distance between the two products of 100 m. This study focuses on regions in India that are vulnerable to forest fires during specific time-frames and appraises the situation with an aim to minimize such incidents, if not completely stop the fire spread and its consequent destruction and loss. Our main objective is to understand seasonal and spatial variation in fire pattern and to identify zones of frequent burning. Keywords: (A)ATSR; MODIS; biogeographic zones; disturbance regime; conservation; anthropogenic pressure; India 1. Introduction Monitoring and management of forest fires is very important in tropical countries like in India, where annually 55% of the total forest cover is prone to fires [1] causing adverse ecological, economic and social impacts. Most significantly, tropical forest fires emit substantial amounts of gases (CO 2 , CO, CH 4 , NO  x ) and particulates into the atmosphere [2  –  5]. Together, these emissions influence the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere, rad iation budget, and overall climate [6]. Forest fires are largely found largely within the tropics, as evidenced by assessment of satellite imagery [7], which shows that over 70% of global fire events in any given year are found within this region [7]. Global assessments on the seasonal variability of fire occurrence were studied in detail by [7  –  9]. Studies on the variability of active fires on a continental scale include: [10,11] in Africa, [12] in South America and [13] in Canada. Irrespective of fire distribution patterns on a global scale, biomass burning has several ecological effects, such as the loss of animal habitat and biodiversity [14], modification of vegetation succession patterns [15  –  16], and alteration of biological nutrient cycling [17]. In order to assess this array of impacts, techniques must be developed for accurately measuring the spatial and temporal distribution of vegetation fires. Quantification of forest fire can be analyzed in terms of biodiversity loss, nutrient, soil moisture and other intangible benefits. Specifically, factors like flammability (plants containing resins, oils etc .), phenology (extent of living and dead material), vegetation structure, location of the fuel within the vegetation, weather conditions (humidity, wind speed, temperature) and fuel moisture levels influence the combustion of vegetation [18]. All these factors influence the fire duration and intensity, and consequently affect the flaming and smouldering phases of burning activity 1.1. Fire and Its Impact in Indian Tropical Forests Among the various tropical forests in the Indian subcontinent, deciduous forests are largely prone to forest fires and account for approximately 40% of all forest fires in India [19  –  20]. A majority of the   Remote Sensing 2010 , 2   593 tropical dry forests around the world have been converted into anthropogenic grassland as a result of fire and other land use conversion [21  –  22]. It is difficult to understand the role of fire in the conservation and management of these endangered ecosystems. Studies from the Forest Survey of India (FSI) [23] showed that an average of 54.7% of forest is affected by fire and 72.1% of the forest area is subjected to grazing. Annually 3.73 million hectares of the forest area are burnt [24], resulting in economic losses of approximately USD 110 million [25]. Studies reveal that in India human activity is generally the principal cause of forest fires [26]. People have been clearing and burning forests for shifting cultivation for millennia [27,28], though this is now a dying practice in most parts of the country, except in the northeast [29]. Nonetheless, local communities on the fringes of the forest continue to burn forests to promote the growth of fresh fodder for their livestock and livelihood [27], and to facilitate the collection of non-timber forest products [30  –  32]. Vegetation fires studied worldwide [33  –  36] show that a majority of these fires are being set by man in areas with low water deficit [37]. As a result, occurrence of fire has a seasonal pattern, often influenced by land use activity, though its intensity and exact location will be different than the preceding year. Forests in the Indian region are especially prone to fires during the summer season (February  –  April). Monitoring these fires has become easier with the availability of satellite data obtained with high temporal repeatability, spectral variability and wide spatial coverage. To track fire incidence, fire progression and to assess damage, international organizations like NOAA (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), NASA and satellites like Terra and Aqua, IRS P4 (OCEANSAT), IRS P6-AWiFS (Indian Remote Sensing - Advanced Wide Field Sensor) and SPOT-VGT (Système Pour l'Observation de la Terre-Vegetation) are being used. Till recently, polar satellites most widely used for detection tasks have been the NOAA-AVHRR (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer) [38], the EOS-MODIS (Moderate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) [39] and the European sensor ATSR-2. In March 2002, the ESA put into orbit the ENVISAT satellite allowing us to put the advanced sensor AATSR (Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer) into operation. To understand and quantify the fire regime in India, we used (A)ATSR data, which was provided by the European Space Agency ATSR World Fire Atlas. The derived datasets are useful for detecting fires that occupy small areas on the ground, as the band is sensitive to small variations in radiation due to fire. The current study was taken up with the objectives of: (i) assessing the distribution of fire occurrences in India; (ii) understanding the seasonal variation in fire occurrence; (iii) relating the fire distribution pattern to bio-geographic zones and protected areas of India and (iv) highlighting the use of such datasets for regular monitoring of fires. The study is the first of its kind in India using satellite data from (A)ATSR for the entire fire season over nine years. 2 Materials and Methods 2.1. Site Description The present study was carried out over the entirety of India. The Indian forest covers some 76.5 million hectares out of a total geographical area of 328.7 million hectares, thus constituting 23.38% of the total area of the nation [23]. India possesses a rich flora of flowering plants (17,000 species) with a high degree of endemism (33.5%) [40] and has two world biodiversity hotspots. The vegetation in the   Remote Sensing 2010 , 2   594 Indian sub-continent is distributed mainly in four distinct geographical zones, viz., Himalayas, Vindhyas, Western and Eastern Ghats. The entire geographical area is divided into 26 biogeographical zones [41] (Figure 1). These bio-geographical zones are categorized based on temperature, precipitation and climatic patterns. 103 forest types are described by [42], of which many are prone to fire. Among other major factors seasonal pattern plays an important role in the vegetation formation. Winter season in India extends from December to February, followed by peak summer from March to May. Major fire incidences are noticed during this peak season, which coincides with the period of high amounts of ignition material available on the forest floor. By January most of the deciduous trees shed their leaves, and after June, the south-west monsoon sets in providing the needed moisture to prevent the fire from igniting the dry flora and spreading across the forest. Figure 1. Map showing the study area (a) with state boundaries and (b) bio-geographical zones.   Remote Sensing 2010 , 2   595 Figure 1.   Cont.  Hence, the months of January to June were chosen for analysis to understand the spread of fire as a function of seasonal pattern. The deciduous forest, spread mainly across the Vindhyas, the middle and southern Eastern Ghats, the eastern slopes and foothills of the Western Ghats and the coniferous forests in the Himalayan region are vulnerable to fires every year, but, in the north-eastern states of India forest fires are mainly due to shifting cultivation and not due to the enhancement of grass cover as generally reported in other parts of the country. 2.2. Data Sources and Research Method Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer ( A)ATSR night-time satellite data were obtained from ATSR World Fire Atlas (WFA) for the month of January to June for the years 1997  –  2005 and processed for Algorithm 1 [43  –  44] have given explanation on the (A)ATSR characteristics, validation and relation to climatic variables. The European Space Agency processed the (A)ATSR images with
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