Global fire size distribution is driven by human impact and climate
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Stijn Hantson; Salvador Pueyo; Emilio Chuvieco
Publication Year: 2015

Cataloging Information

  • climatology
  • distribution
  • fire intensity
  • fire management
  • fire size
  • fire size distribution
  • global fire activity
  • heat
  • MODIS - Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer
  • power law
  • remote sensing
  • self-organized criticality
  • statistical analysis
  • wildfires
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: November 15, 2019
FRAMES Record Number: 18758
Tall Timbers Record Number: 31124
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Call Number: Available
TTRS Abstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Aim: In order to understand fire's impacts on vegetation dynamics, it is crucial that the distribution of fire sizes be known. We approached this distribution using a power-law distribution, which derives from self-organized criticality theory (SOC). We compute the global spatial variation in the power-law exponent and determine the main factors that explain its spatial distribution. Location: Global, at 2° grid resolution. Methods: We use satellite-derived MODIS burned-area data (MCD45) to obtain global individual fire size data for 2002-2010, grouped together for each 2° grid. A global map of fire size distribution was produced by plotting the exponent of the power law. The drivers of the spatial trends in fire size distribution, including vegetation productivity, precipitation, population density and net income, were analysed using a generalized additive model (GAM). Results: The power law gave a good fit for 93% of the global 2° grid cells with important fire activity. A global map of the fire size distribution, as approached by the power law shows strong spatial patterns. These are associated both with climatic variables (precipitation and evapotranspiration) and with anthropogenic variables (cropland cover and population density). Main conclusions: Our results indicate that the global fire size distribution changes over gradients of precipitation and aridity, and that it is strongly influenced by human activity. This information is essential for understanding potential changes in fire sizes as a result of climate change and socioeconomic dynamics. The ability to improve SOC fire models by including these human and climatic factors would benefit fire projections as well as fire management and policy.

Online Link(s):
Hantson, Stijn; Pueyo, Salvador; Chuvieco, Emilio. 2015. Global fire size distribution is driven by human impact and climate. Global Ecology and Biogeography 24(1):77-86.