GFMC: Savanna and Land-Use Fires in Southern Africa, 17 October 2000

Savanna and Land-Use Fires in SouthernAfrica

17 October 2000

Smoke from vegetation fires in Africa

A new TOMS Global Aerosol Hot Spots Page provides screened close-ups of regions with active fires and smoke emissions.

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13 October 2000

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14 October 2000

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15 October 2000

NOTE: The surface background image used here is NOT part of the TOMS aerosol index retrieval.
(Source: TOMS Global Aerosol Hot Spots Page)

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Active fire signals were recorded by OSEI with the NOAA-14 POES AVHRR HRPT satellite on 13 October 2000: numerous heat signatures (red) and smoke plumes (light blue) from fires burning in Madagascar are visible in this 4 km resolution image. Several large smoke plumes are visible in northwestern Madagascar trailing out across the coast into the Mozambique Channel. Additional fires with smaller heat signatures may not have been detected.
(Source: NOAA/OSEI)

The following information is taken from a report of the Global Fire Monitoring Center to the FAO (September 2000) and International Forest Fire News (IFFN):

The wildland fire scene in Southern and West Africa is dominated by fires burning in fire-adapted ecosystems. A recent research report of NASA indicated that ca. 130 million ha of savannas and grasslands burn annually in Africa south of the equator (for comparison: South Africa covers an area of 122 million ha). The region’s heaviest burning is concentrated in the moist subtropical belt that includes Angola, the southern Congo, Zambia, northern Mozambique, and southern Tanzania. During the fire season 2000 the area burned south of the equator may reach more than 200 million ha.

A case study from the Central African Republic in the second half of the 1990s shows that just over 43% of Sudanian savannahs burn (equal to 8.6 million ha) and 58% of Guineo-Congolian / Sudanian savannahs burn (equal to ca. 62 million ha). The area of forest affected by fires is difficult to assess in the absence of a suitable forest data base. However in the 1994-95 dry season 2486 cases of fires were detected in “forested” areas. However a close inspection of the data, revealed that all these fires were on the edge of the forest domain, some were likely to be for the purposes of establishing coffee cultures. It was not, however, possible to quantify these in terms of area of forest burned.

As a consequence of major forest and other wildfire events three countries in Subsahara Africa responded by initiating major initiatives.

Satellite-based monitoring of vegetation fires has been ongoing in Namibia since 1996 and show that between 3 and 5 million ha of forest, other wooded land and other land are affected by fire. Among those forests that are negatively affected by increasing land-use pressure and changed fire regimes are the Zambesi teak forests in the North of the country, particularly in the Caprivi Strip. As a consequence of a community-based Integrated Forest Fire Management (IFFM) programme in the frame of the Namibia-Finland Forestry Programme the forest area burned had been reduced significantly between 1997 and 1999. Recent military activities in the region have resulted in an increase of area burned.

For more information on fires in Namibia: See contributions in International Forest Fire News (IFFN):

See also the Photo Archive of  Tanzania and Kenya.

As a consequence of the delayed onset of the rainy season and the increasing land-use pressure Ethiopia in early 2000 faced an extreme wildfire season. Land-use activities encroaching into the afro-montane forests in the South of the country associated with conversion burning and escaping fires led to large-scale wildfires. After the government had called for international assistance a coalition of countries (Germany, South Africa, Canada, and the United States) supported the government to control the forest fires. At the end of the dry season in April 2000, however, more than 100,000 ha of montane forests had been severely affected or destroyed by fire. As a consequence the government convened a Round Table on Fire Management in September 2000 and prepared the agenda for a long-term fire management programme for the country. In addition to the ongoing and GTZ-assisted fire policy and management development activities a major input will be provided by a Technical Cooperation Project of the FAO for a duration of 1.5 years starting in 2000-01.

For more information on fires in Ethiopia: See contributions in International Forest Fire News (IFFN):

The Ethiopia Fire Emergency between February and April 2000 (IFFN No. 22 – April 2000)
See also the Photo Archive of Ethiopia.

South Africa
From the 16 to the 22 January 2000, two large wildfires burnt significant portions of the Cape Peninsula, 4047 ha in Silvermine / Hout Bay district, the other, 4020 ha in the Red Hill / Scarborough / Kommetjie area. The fires were fanned by extremely hot, dry and windy conditions. All available resources in the peninsula were called upon to assist in the fighting of the fires. However, due to the lack of a disaster response coordination system for disaster management the fires burned vineyards, damaged or destroyed over 70 houses and 200 shacks in informal settlement areas. Subsequently the government established a Fire Task Team which recommended a rapid promulgation of a Disaster Management Bill, in order to achieve clarity on the new system for co-ordination, to consolidate planning processes for disaster management, and to remove current uncertainties at all levels about legal roles and responsibilities.

For more information on fires in South Africa: See contributions in International Forest Fire News (IFFN): South Africa

See also the South Africa Photo Archive.


New products from NASA’s Earth Observatory

These images of northeastern South Africa from NASA’s Earth Observatory, near Kruger National Park, were acquired on 7 September 2000 by the Mulit-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR). The left image shows an 85-kilometer wide x 200-kilometer long area captured by MISR’s aftward- viewing 45-degree camera. At lower left are the Drakensberg Mountains; to the east of this range a large burn scar with thin smoke plumes from still-smoldering fires is visible. Near the top of the image another large burn scar with an open-pit mine at its western edge can be seen. Other burn scars are scattered throughout the image. Just above the center of the lefthand image is a polygonal burn scar with a set of smoke plumes from actively burning fires at its southwestern tip. The righthand image, which is a “zoomed-in” view of the area, was acquired almost simultaneously by MISR’s airborne counterpart, AirMISR, aboard a NASA ER-2 high-altitude aircraft. AirMISR contains a single camera that rotates to different view angles; when this image was acquired the camera was pointed straight downward. Because the ER-2 aircraft flies at an altitude of 20 kilometers, whereas the Terra spacecraft orbits the Earth 700 kilometers above the ground, the AirMISR image has 35 times finer spatial resolution. The AirMISR image covers about 9 kilometers x 9 kilometers. Unlike the MISR view, the AirMISR data are in “raw” form and processing to remove radiometric and geometric distortions has not yet been performed. Fires such as those shown in the images are deliberately set to burn off dry vegetation, and constitute a widespread agricultural practice in many parts of Africa. These MISR and AirMISR images are part of an international field, aircraft, and satellite data collection and analysis campaign known as SAFARI-2000, the Southern Africa Regional Science Intitiative. SAFARI-2000 is designed, in part, to study the effects of large-scale human activities on the regional climate, meteorology, and ecosystems.

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MISR and AirMISR Simultaneously Observe African Fires
(Source: NASA’s Earth Observatory)

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