ESF Exploratory Workshop on Improved Quantitative Fire Description With Multi-Species Inversions of Observed Plumes

The ESF Exploratory Workshop on Improved Quantitative Fire Description With
Multi-Species Inversions of Observed Plumes was held from 14 to 16 September 2009 in the historic Castle in Farnham, Surrey, United Kingdom. 


A recent article in the journal Science (Bowman et al. 2009) highlighted once again how smoke from vegetation fires constitutes a major source of important trace gases and aerosol particles that greatly influence the composition and functioning of the atmosphere and impacts human health and security. Recent advances in the space-based observation of open vegetation fires provide the potential for great innovation in quantifying fire emissions and other effects. New sensors and retrieval techniques open novel opportunities to derive more accurate information on fire occurrence, behaviour, severity and impacts. As an example, using the new fire radiative power observations for emission estimation bypasses the largest sources of inaccuracy of the traditional approach and introduces other, presumably smaller uncertainties. Also a multitude of satellite-based observation capabilities of the atmospheric composition in smoke plumes has been implemented during the last 10 years. At the same time, fire and atmospheric modelling capabilities have greatly improved and cover scales from chemical reactions to global long-range transport. Operational forecasting systems based on the observation and models provide real time guidance to emergency, environmental and health services related to fire spread and air quality. Furthermore, climate models now include more detailed vegetation models and their interactions with fire regimes.

The ESF LESC Exploratory Workshop: “Improved Quantitative Fire Description with Multi-Species Inversions of Observed Plumes” (Farnham Castle, UK, 14-16 September 2009) brought together scientists from nine European countries plus Brazil and the United States. They presented research on biomass burning in very diverse scientific disciplines. The discussions explored opportunities for a better quantitative understanding of the processes involved in biomass burning and searched new and innovative ways to exploit the recent developments in remote sensing, modelling and data assimilation. During the discussions, it became clear that research on wildfires has become increasingly fragmented since the 1990s because of the diversity of scientifically productive approaches to the problem. All participants agreed that a closer inter- disciplinary collaboration now bears great potential for their individual research.

There was a broad consensus that such collaboration would lead to improved quantitative air quality forecasts, assessments of global air pollution transport patterns, climate change observations, climate change predictions, and guidance for managing large-scale fire situations. Key contributions to these improvements would come from:

  • the quantification of the relationships between emission factors and physical parameters that are available from remote sensing or provided from operational systems with data assimilation (e.g. humidity, accumulated precipitation, wind, spectral characteristics of fire observations, topography and vegetation characteristics)
  • the derivation of estimates for other fire parameters (fuel consumption, fire spread, fire intensity and change in vegetation on longer time scales) from remote sensing data and numerical weather prediction models 
  • a better integration of biogeochemical fire science with socioeconomic research and investigation of the role of driving parameters such as population density, GDP, land ownership structures and the use of wildfires as a landscape management tool

Furthermore, the participants agreed that a coordinated and funded research network will be needed to establish the necessary inter-disciplinary collaboration in Europe, and increasingly beyond. Such a network could build on the previous achievements of field experiments during the 1990s, most of which were coordinated in the BIBEX programme, and more recent research. Coordinated activities should lead to interdisciplinary laboratory measurements and field campaigns integrating ground-based and airborne observations as well as detailed analyses of satellite data and numerical modelling results. Opportunities exist in Europe and elsewhere to organize field campaigns around prescribed burns as well as exploiting situations with very high likelihood of wildfire occurrence. Different fire regimes will need to be sampled with small experiments in, e.g., Portugal, France, Germany or Scandinavia and up-scaling to satellite-based remote sensing and the global scale will require additional large experiments. The ultimate goal would be to establish a worldwide collaboration with field experiments on different continents. Coordination is also needed to integrate the results from the laboratory and field studies into numerical systems for forecasting and monitoring atmospheric composition and land surface properties and to further improve the parameterisations for fire emissions applied in these systems.


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Welcome by Convenors

J Kaiser, M Schultz & M Wooster (ECMWF, FZJ, KCL)

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M Wooster (KCL)

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Presentation of the European Science Foundation (ESF)

P Pelkonen (LESC)

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Fire Assimilation Systems and Plume Inversions 

Relating Fire and Plume Observations: Past Studies

C Ichoku (NASA)

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Inversion for Carbon Source/Sink Attribution

F Chevallier (LSCE/IPSL)

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Pyrogenic CO and Aerosol Modelling at INPE/CPTEC

S Freitas (INPE/CPTEC)

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Visibility Forecasts at NRL

E Hyer (NRL)

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Fire Assimilation over Europe in IS4FIRES and SILAM

J Soares (FMI)

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Fire in the GMES Atmospheric Core Service

J Kaiser (ECMWF)

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  • Which inversion applications exist already, and what are their strengths and limitations?
  • What are the comparative advantages of the fire assimilation systems?
  • Are there any unused synergies between the systems?
  • What is the potential for future developments?
Fire Observations 

Selected Fire Highlights

J G Goldammer (GFMC/UNU/MPI Chemistry)

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What’s in the Smoke?

M O Andreae (MPI Chemistry)

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Active Fire Observations

M Wooster (KCL)

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Burnt Area Observations

J San Miguel (JRC)


Atmospheric Smoke Plume Observations

S Turquety (LMD/IPSL)

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  • What lessons can be learnt from the current observing system?
  • Which properties are well observed? Which are not?
  • Will the overall fire observing capability be maintained by the upcoming satellite missions?
  • What methods and opportunities arise for validation of satellite products?
Scientific Applications 

Ecological/Fire Modelling and the FUME IP

V Lehsten (University of Lund)

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Fire Spread Modelling

A Simeoni (University of Corsica)

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Pyrogenic Aerosol Impact on Climate Modeling

J Haywood (Met Office)

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Fires and the Carbon Cycle

G van der Werf (University of Amsterdam)

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Long-Range Transport of Fire Plumes

M Schultz (FZJ)

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Environmental Effects of Fires in Portugal

J Pereira (IICT)

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Operational Surface Parameter Assimilation at ECMWF

P de Rosnay (ECMWF)

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  • Are the present systems suitable for the various applications?
  • How can the various applications benefit from the fire assimilation systems? How can the fire parameterisations in the assimilation systems benefit from the various applications?
  • What is the potential for any further developments?
Synthesis Conclusions Summaries of the Discussions on Days 1 & 2-

Discussion of Future Research Paths

  • What are the main gaps in our knowledge on fires and their effects? species partitioning
  • ground fires, e.g. peat injection heights
  • What are the most promising approaches for increasing our knowledge?


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