The Contribution of the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) for Early Warning and Management of Wildfires
Johann G. Goldammer
The Global Fire Monitoring Center / FIREGLOBE UN-FAO/ECE Team of Specialists on Forest Fire @ Fire Ecology Research Group, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry c/o Freiburg University, P.O.Box, 79085 Freiburg, GERMANY
In many vegetation types of the globe the application of fire in agriculture and pastoralism and the occurrence of natural wildfires (natural fire regimes) are established (beneficial) elements in traditional land-use systems, in natural ecosystem processes and in biogeochemical cycles. Excessive application of fire due to rapid demographic and land-use changes, however, lead to destruction of productivity, carrying capacity, biodiversity and vegetation cover. Climate variability such as periodic extreme droughts caused by the ENSO phenomenon add to the severity of fire impacts. Projected demographic and climate change scenarios suggest that this situation will become more critical during the next decades.
The state of fire science (fundamental fire research, fire ecology) in most vegetation types, and the results of biogeochemical and atmospheric sciences research of the last decade provides sufficient knowledge for supporting decision making at fire policy and management levels.
It is observed, however, that in many countries the expertise is either not known or is not readily accessible and available for developing adequate measures in fire policies and management. The fire and smoke episode of 1997-98 in South East Asia was a good example that existing fire information systems or fire management expertise was utilized to a limited extent only. These circumstances led to confusion at national and international decision-making levels and a critical delay of international response to fire and smoke emergencies.
Retrospectively this could be explained by the lack of a regional South East Asian or – considering global fire problems – a global fire information system. Consequently, an information and monitoring system was designed which national and international agencies involved in land-use planning, disaster management or in other fire-related tasks can utilize for planning and decision making.
2. The Global Fire Monitoring Center
The Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) has been established in 1998 in accordance with
the objectives of the UN International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR)
the recommendations of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and various scientific and policy conferences
the co-sponsorship of the UNESCO and the World Bank, Disaster Management Facility (DMF)
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has joined the GFMC as a co-sponsor in 1999. IUCN and GFMC jointly address global fire in cooperative projects with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) (in preparation in 1999).
The GFMC was inaugurated on the Internet at the FAO consultation “Public Policies Affecting Forest Fires” in October 1998 (FAO 1998). In its first phase the GMFC is sponsored by the government of Germany, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as a German contribution to the IDNDR. The fire documentation, information and monitoring system is accessible through:
The GFMC is established at the Fire Ecology and Biomass Burning Research Group of the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry, Germany. The expertise of the institute is two-fold: First, the global scientific research and development work in the field of fire ecology, cultural history and socio-economics of vegetation fires, and science transfer into operational management systems and policy development began at Freiburg University in the mid 1970s. In the same time the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry took the lead in investigating the role of vegetation fires in global biogeochemical cycles and atmospheric chemistry. The two institutions merged in 1990 and created the first interdisciplinary fire research institute.
In the 1990s the Max Planck Institute has been responsible to design, coordinate, organize and partially implement several international fire research campaigns under the umbrella of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP). The institute is chairing the scientific steering committee of the fire science component within the IGBP (the Biomass Burning Experiment [BIBEX]).
Since the early 1990s the Fire Ecology Research Group in addition has taken the lead in the UN system through its role as coordinating unit of the UN-FAO/ECE/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire. The UN team serves the UN agencies and other national and international partners in providing information and links in the field of global fire. Since 1988 the UN Team is publishing the UN FAO-ECE International Forest Fire News (IFFN) which is distributed to nearly 1000 agencies, institutes, libraries and individuals worldwide. Starting in October 1998 the* IFFN is now available unlimited and globally on the GFMC Internet website.
Furthermore, the Fire Ecology Research Group is convener of the IDNDR Early Warning Programme Working Group “Fire and Related Environmental Hazards”. The Fire Ecology Research Group has provided scientific and technical assistance to governments and institutions in all continents over the last 20 years. Through international scientific and policy activities the Fire Ecology Research Group has contributed to the formation of several international initiatives on fire issues, including the ITTO and WHO Fire Guidelines (ITTO 1997, WHO 1999).
3. Design and Outputs of the GFMC
Following the principles which were developed for a scientific Global Vegetation Fire Information System in the early 1990s (Crutzen and Goldammer 1993, Malingreau et al. 1993), the Global Fire Monitoring Center in 1998 began to document archived and provide real-time or near-real time information related to fire. This includes the interlinking with other national, regional and international information systems.
The products of the GFMC are continuously updated and expanded. As of mid 1999 the GFMC provides following on-line information:
3.1 Near-Real Time Global Fire Data
Under the file “Current and Recent Significant Global Fire Events” those sources and products of satellite remote sensing centers are displayed which are either updated daily or provide spaceborne fire information on a regular base (usually in case of fire events recorded). The GFMC displays full satellite imageries or maps indicating high-temperature events. These imageries and maps are then
screened for misleading or false information on high-temperature events
interpreted (mainly wildfires vs. prescribed or other land-use fires)
supplied with national or regional meteorological reports and forecasts (including fire weather forecasts and fire danger rating)
enriched with other information (e.g. hyperlinks to agencies providing detailed fire reports or summaries)
explained with ecological and socio-economic background information
Between August 1998 and mid 1999 the following regions have been covered:
Main source of remotely sensed fire information are obtained from the NOAA AVHRR satellites, made available through NOAA´s Operational Significant Event Imagery (OSEI) and the Canadian Fire Monitoring, Mapping, and Modelling (FireM3) Project. The most important fire regions covered are;
Canada (wildfires in the boreal coniferous zone)
U.S.A. (wildfires throughout the continent prescribed burning)
Mexico (wildfires and land-use fires)
Interlinks to agencies in all three countries are provided in the daily fire updates. In the case of fires in Florida the GFMC started to create a photo archive with explanatory information on background, objectives and limitations on prescribed burning in forestry and ecosystem management of southern forests and wetland ecosystems.
Besides satellite information provided by OSEI the GFMC also displays the daily fire observations by the National Brazilian Space Institute INPE. INPE covers the South American countries between Venezuela in the North and Argentina in the South. The main fire activities in South America are land-use fires and wildfires in the “Arc of Deforestation” in Brazil. Since August 1999 GOES satellite imageries are added daily. Explanation and cross-links to Brazilian and World Bank programmes are provided on this site.
The main fire regions of Eurasia (Europe and Central-Eastern North Asia) are in the boreal coniferous forests of Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation. The GFMC displayed NOAA AVHRR data provided by OSEI and linked to sources in the Russian Federation (receiving station IKI RAN, Moscow). Regular updates of statistical fire data from the Russian Aerial Forest Fire Protection Service Avialesookhrana and other background information from the GFMC archive are provided.
Satellite and ground information from steppe and forest fires in Mongolia are provided by satellite maps generated on the base of the NOAA-AVHRR data received and processed by the government of Mongolia.
South Asia is explained in detail under South East Asian Fire Monitoring (see 3.2).
GFMC produces a daily composite pan-Australian fire map based on the regional geocoded and manually evaluated fire observations by the Satellite Remote Sensing Services Department of Land Administration (DOLA). Recently GFMC overlaid the DOLA fire event information on a composite Australian vegetation zone map.
Interlink information is provided by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and Australian Fire Management Agencies.
Global to Regional Fire Weather Forecasts
Global to regional fire weather forecasts are updated daily by the Experimental Climate Prediction Center (ECPC). The GFMC displays selected and daily updated global and Asia-Pacific ECPC Fire Weather Forecasts. These examples allow a quicklook and provide (1) daily and (2) weekly total forecasts, and (3) forecasted monthly anomalies.
Regional and Global Vegetation Fire Emissions
Near-real time satellite observations and emission models are displayed on a daily update base. The Global Aerosol Index by Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) products are prepared daily by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). Earth Probe TOMS, launched on 2 July 1996, depicts aerosols emitted from vegetation fires, desert dust storms and other sources.
The Atmospheric Sciences Department, University of Sao Paulo studies atmospheric transport of vegetation burning emissions in the Amazon and Central Brazil through a numerical simulation using the atmospheric model RAMS-CSU (Regional Atmospheric Modeling System). A model of gases and particles source emissions is introduced, associated with vegetation burning in South America tropical forest and savanna, spatially and temporally distributed and daily assimilated, according to the vegetation burning spots defined by remote sensing. Displayed daily products: Carbon monoxide at five levels (1000m, 3500m, 5000m, 7500m, and 10000m), carbon monoxide column average, number and size of fires.
3.3 South East Asian Fire Monitoring
The application of fire in land-use systems and wildfires in forests and other vegetation in Indonesia and neighbouring countries within the South East Asian region have reached unprecedented levels and have been leading to severe environmental problems and impacts on society. Traditional slash-and-burn systems in the shifting agriculture mode are increasingly replaced by modern large-scale conversion of forest into permanent agricultural systems which are partially maintained by fire, and into forest plantations. Wildfires escaping from land-use fires are becoming more and more regular. The impact of land-use fires and wildfires are detrimental to biodiversity and the regional atmospheric chemistry. In Indonesia and within the South East Asian / ASEAN region a joint, concerted approach is needed to cope with the problem of transboundary pollution caused by vegetation burning. However, since fire is an essential tool in land use in the tropics a response strategy must be developed in which the benefits from fire use would be encouraged, at the same time the negative impacts of fire be reduced. National and regional fire management plans and policies must take into consideration the complexity and diversity of fire uses in different vegetation types and land-use systems.
3.3.1 Background Information
As an introduction several analyzes are presented which were prepared by the Fire Ecology Research Group, the host of the Global Fire Monitoring Center, are presented. The analyzes cover fire policies, management, research and basic fire ecological information on the SE Asian region.
3.3.2 Projects and Programmes
As a consequence of the fire and smog episode of 1991 in SE Asia which was mainly caused by fires burning on the Indonesian archipelago, the Government of Indonesia for the first time called for international cooperation to support national fire management capabilities. In June 1992 an international conference on Long-Term Integrated Forest Fire Management was held in Bandung. All projects and programmes initiated and implemented after 1992 (including the post-1997 projects) are contained in this file. Particular emphasis is given on analyses of the 1997-98 fire and smoke episode by providing numerous reports on file in the GFMC.
3.3.3 Current Meteorological and Fire Information
This part of the South East Asian Fire Monitoring activity is identical with the first GFMC file “Near-Real Time Global Fire Data (3.1). It provides daily/regularly analyzes of the meteorological conditions in South East Asia and displays the ASEAN Fire Weather Information System (ASFWIS) which provides maps describing the current fire weather situation in South East Asia. This system is based upon the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS). After verifying of this information with meteorological reports and forecasts by the Indonesian Meteorological Agency and the Meteorological Service of Singapore fire warnings are issued. Early warnings and extreme fire dangers are explicitly issued in case of change of fire-weather conditions (blinking red warning signal).
Satellite-derived (NOAA AVHRR) information on active fires are taken or cross-linked to the following receiving stations: Meteorological Service of Singapore, the GTZ (Germany-Indonesian) Integrated Forest Fire Management (IFFM) project in Samarinda, East Kalimantan (a project which is supported by the GFMC by personnel and scientific backstopping) and the EU-Indonesian Forest Fire Prevention and Control Project (FFPCP) in Palembang (Sumatera).
3.4 Global Fire Inventories and Models
3.4.1 Global Vegetation Fire Inventory (GFVI)
Assessments of past, present, and future role of fire in ecosystems, land-use and atmospheric chemistry rely in part on fire inventories which must be constructed on appropriate spatial and temporal scales. An internationally standardized statistical fire reporting procedure and format is not yet in place.
In the first part of the inventories file the GVFI produces its continuously updated set of data which is taken from (a) published regional and national statistics (see next paragraph) and (b) reports from agencies which were provided bilaterally on request by the GFMC (which operates GVFI). GVFI envisages the development of a standardized and globally recognized fire inventory system which is currently under discussion. The proposals – while not yet in agreement with the FAO – are given on this file. The fire data to be collected embrace wildfires as well as different types of fire application in land-use systems.
3.4.2 Remote Sensing Products
This file provides all links to institutions which have produced case studies or regularly published datasets on active fires or areas burned in various regions or globally. Currently the remotely sensed fire products provide reliable time-space calendars of fire events but are not suitable for burned-area assessments exempt for case studies.
3.4.3 Fire Statistical Databases
Besides the statistical databases contained in the GVFI files and the more detailed national fire statistics which can be found in national reports or in the country files of International Forest Fire News (IFFN) this section provides the original fire database of the Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE) which are published regularly. It includes all Western and Eastern European countries, countries of the former Soviet Union, the U.S.A. and Canada. The last data set covers the period 1995-97 (ECE/FAO 1998). It is envisaged to add in future the Community Information System on Forest Fires of the European Union (under negotiation). The Community Information System on Forest Fires currently covers 319 provinces (departments, states) of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Greece (Lemasson 1997). It contains information on 460,000 fires recorded between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 1995 involving a total of six million hectares.
3.4.4 Global Fire Models
Interactions between vegetation and fire (as well as other disturbances) are critical for ecosystem dynamics. They are therefore incorporated into new simulation models of global vegetation processes. Recent efforts have shown that such models are indeed capable of simulating global fire regimes. The following two global fire models have been developed: The fire model sub-site created by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research provides the LPJ fire module, incorporated into the Lund-Potsdam-Jena Dynamic Global Vegetation Model (LPJ-DGVM) and links to the MC fire module of the MC Corvallis Dynamic Global Vegetation Model.
3.5 International Forest Fire News
The production of International Forest Fire News (IFFN) is one of the core activities of the UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire. IFFN is produced at the Global Fire Monitoring Center. The printed version is published biannually by the ECE/FAO Agriculture and Timber Division (now: Timber Section, UN-ECE Trade Division) since 1988.
The last printed issue of IFFN is also available on the internet homepage of the GFMC. All issues before the latest issue, starting with the 1990 issues, are also available on the GFMC website and are organized as follows:
Country Notes: This is the most important section of the IFFN archive. It contains reports, analyzes and statistics from 50 nations. The reports are either authored by government bodies or independent research institutes and individuals.
Specials: A series of “Specials” have been produced in which several reports focused on a nation, region or topic (e.g., South East Asia, the Baltic Region, Russia, Switzerland, Israel, etc.).
Research & Technology News: This section contains all reports and minutes of meeting of research activities, predominantly those which are connected to the international fire science programmes which are IFFN co-sponsors (IGBP-IGAC-BIBEX, IUFRO, IBFRA; see also para 3.6).
3.6 Other National Fire Reports
General Analyses and Overviews: In this archive national fire general analyzes and overviews are presented which are either in preparation for the next issue of IFFN (“near real-time information”) or which exceed the size standards or do not meet the newsletter format of the printed version of IFFN.
Research & Development: Reports from national or international research projects are provided in this file which meet the standards of scientific publications.
3.7 Programmes and Projects
The most important international fire management, policy development and research programmes are described in detail and links are given to reports, publications and websites of these programmes.
3.7.1 United Nations (UN)
Several UN agencies and programmes in 1997-98 became actively involved in regional and global fire issues. Many of these programmes do not yet provide a special fire website. The following information therefore provides (1) a quick overview on fire programmes which may not be complete due to still lacking information, together with (2) a link to the general website of the organization and (3) some important reports or links to reports which are available to the GFMC. The UN agencies and programmes covered are:
International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR): The complete report of the IDNDR Early Warning Programme Working Group “Fire and Related Environmental Hazards” is given as well as other relevant reports and documents (Goldammer 1997).
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): Besides the hyperlink to the FAO website and the special fire section an in-depth report on the FAO Consultation on Public Policies Affecting Forest Fires will be given by mid 1999.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): The activities of UNESCO focus on technical and operational aspects related to causes, impacts, prevention and rehabilitation (UNESCO 1998).
World Health Organization (WHO): The core activity of the WHO related to fire and fire-generated smoke pollution is the development of the WHO Health Guidelines on Episodic Vegetation Fire Events. The guidelines are provided in full length (WHO 1999).
World Meteorological Organization (WMO): Reports and analyzes of the WMO focus on transboundary smoke haze pollution and related activities in early warning of smoke pollution and relevant research programmes (WMO 1998).
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): Links are provided to the reports of OCHA in fire disasters (e.g., Indonesia and Russia 1998).
3.7.2 International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)
The core of the ITTO file consists of the full text of the ITTO Guidelines on Fire Management in Tropical Forests (ITTO 1997). At international level the ITTO has taken a lead role in assisting tropical countries to cope with the challenges of fire management.
3.7.3 The World Bank
The newly created Disaster Management Facility (DMF) of the World Bank is one of the co-sponsors of the GFMC and is linked to the website. The activities in the field of fire include the World Bank Institute, Environment and Natural Resources Division (WBIEN) (World Bank 1998). The GFMC supports the establishment and future functioning of the Consortium on Natural and Technological Catastrophes (NAT-CAT), an initiative of the DMF.
3.7.4 International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP-IGAC-BIBEX)
The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) provides an important international research platform for interdisciplinary fire research projects. The main fire science component of the IGBP is organized under the Biomass Burning Experiment (BIBEX) of the IGBP International Global Atmospheric Chemistry (IGAC) project (IGAC 1998). The GFMC hosts the BIBEX secretariat and closely links ongoing and planned research and development activities of both institutions, not only through the website but also by active planning and field implementation.
3.7.5 Other Research Programmes (IUFRO, IBFRA, etc.)
Besides the IGBP programme two additional organizations provide an umbrella for international collaboration in fire science. Within the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO) the Fire Research Group (8.05) provides a liaison to all other disciplines in forest science. Fire is one of the research foci within the International Boreal Forest Research Association (IBFRA). The IBFRA Fire Working Group operates in all boreal nations. Both fire research groups of IUFRO and IBFRA are co-sponsors of the GFMC and IFFN.
3.7.6 International Technical Cooperation Projects in Fire Management and Research
With this file and archive the GFMC emphasizes the need to link fire management and research projects all over the world, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. With this information exchange platform the GFMC encourages the technical cooperation projects to make their expertise available to others, avoiding that valuable experience in fire management gets lost in the grey literature or national archives. GFMC also encourages bi- and multilateral donor organizations and projects to benefit from communication and coordination between fire management projects.
3.8 Fire Meetings & Fire Management Training Courses
This section comprises continuously updated information on upcoming fire meetings (scientific or technical conferences, workshops, symposia) and fire management training courses. Retrospectives (evaluations, reports) of past fire meetings and courses are provided if made available to GFMC. Announcement of university training courses can also be found on this file.
3.9 Fire Literature, Media, Associations
This section facilitates the access to fire literature, media and professional organisations. Most important is the link to the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF). IAWF is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to facilitate communication in the global wildland fire community. The association has several programs to facilitate this mission by producing or providing
Wildfire Magazine (monthly publication)
Journal of Wildland Fire (a quarterly scientific peer-reviewed scientific journal)
Current Titles in Wildland Fire (a monthly newsletter that keeps subscribers informed on new publications, dissertations, news reports and governmental reports)
Databases (list of fire researchers and fire managers world-wide; list of 55,000 publications on wildland fire)
A preliminary fire bibliography from the GFMC is provided. It contains several hundred literature citations on fire in the tropics, the boreal zone, and nature conservation.
Media coverage of fire events is given under observation of copyrights. The global wildland fire photo archive of the GFMC will gradually be expanded and made available for all continents and fire regions. Currently the photo archive covers the USA (Florida; prescribed burning) , Côte d’Ivoire (bushfires and fire research), East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya), Chile, India (fires and forest utilization), Nepal (fires in the Himalayas and southern lowlands), People’s Republic of China (Fires in the mountain-boreal forests of Heilongjiang Province), South East Asia mainland (Viet Nam, Myanmar, Thailand).
The link section provides the most important and regularly maintained websites from Europe, North America, Latin America, South East Asia and Australia-Pacific. Special link sections deal with humanitarian relief and disaster management, remote sensing, and weather and fire-weather forecasts.
The multiple effects of wildfires and land-use fires in the various vegetation zones of the world and the increased vulnerability of ecosystems and societies to uncontrolled fires have led to an increasing public and political awareness. The design and establishment of a facility with capabilities to systematically monitor, archive and distribute information on fire and related impacts at global scale serves a variety of purposes. These include the demands of information by scientists, land resources managers, the disaster mitigation, prevention and management community, policy makers, and the general public. With the consolidation of global networking between environmental monitoring and early warning systems and the end-users of this information, the future additional information outputs of the Global Fire Monitoring Center will be determined.
Crutzen, P.J and J.G.Goldammer (eds.) 1993. Fire in the environment: The ecological, atmospheric, and climatic importance of vegetation fires. Dahlem Workshop Reports. Environmental Sciences Research Report 13. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 400 p.
Economy Commission for Europe/Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (ECE/FAO). 1998. Forest Fire Statistics 1995-1997, UN Economy Commission for Europe/Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Timber Bulletin, Vol. LI, No.4. ECE/TIM/BULL/51/4, New York, Geneva, 19 p.
FAO (1999) Meeting on Public Policies Affecting Forest Fires, Rome, 28-30 October 1998. FAO Forestry Paper 138. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
Goldammer JG (convener) (1997) United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) Early Warning Programme Report on Early Warning for Fire and Other Environmental Hazards. With contributions of R.E.Burgan, P.Cheney, M.A.Fosberg, V.Kelhä, J.Roads, A.Simard, and B.J.Stocks. IDNDR Secretariat, Geneva, October 1997. Printed for the International IDNDR Conference on Early Warning Systems for the Reduction of Natural Disasters, Potsdam, C 1-35.
International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) 1997. ITTO Guidelines on Fire Management in Tropical Forests. ITTO Policy Development Series No. 6. ITTO, Yokohama, 40 p.
Lemasson, M. 1997. Forest fire in the European Union. A Community scheme to protect forests against fires. Int. Forest Fire News No. 17, 24-28.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 1998. Forest fires: Causes, impacts, prevention and rehabilitation. Information note on recent, current and future activities within UNESCO´s programmes. Paper presented at the FAO Consultation on Public Policies Affecting Forest Fire, Rome, 27-30 October 1998 (mimeo).
World Bank Disaster Management Facility. 1998. Fire hazards, sustainable forestry and the World Bank: An overview of experience. Paper prepared by M.Arnold, R.Gilbert, L.Fried, and A.Kreimer, for the World Bank EDI Training Seminar on Fire, Hazards, Transboudary Haze, and Sustainable Forestry in East Asia and the Pacific. Surabaya, Indonesia, 9-12 December 1998 (in press).
World Health Organization (WHO). 1999. WHO Health Guidelines on Episodic Vegetation Fire Events. WHO Geneva, 178 pp. (draft)
World Meteorological Organization (WMO). 1998. WMO Workshop on Regional Transboundary Smoke and Haze in Southeast Asia. Int. Forest Fire News No. 19, 28-31.