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Lightning fires are a common natural disturbance in North America, and account for the largest proportion of the area burned by wildfires each year. Yet, the spatiotemporal patterns of lightning fires in the conterminous US are not well understood due to limitations of existing fire databases. Our goal here was to develop and test an algorithm that combined MODIS fire detections with lightning detections from the National Lightning Detection Network to identify lightning fires across the conterminous US from 2000 to 2008. The algorithm searches for spatiotemporal conjunctions of MODIS fire clusters and NLDN detected lightning strikes, given a spatiotemporal lag between lightning strike and fire ignition. The algorithm revealed distinctive spatial patterns of lightning fires in the conterminous US While a sensitivity analysis revealed that the algorithm is highly sensitive to the two thresholds that are used to determine conjunction, the density of fires it detected was moderately correlated with ground based fire records. When only fires larger than 0.4 km2 were considered, correlations were higher and the root-mean-square error between datasets was less than five fires per 625 km2 for the entire study period. Our algorithm is thus suitable for detecting broad scale spatial patterns of lightning fire occurrence, and especially lightning fire hotspots, but has limited detection capability of smaller fires because these cannot be consistently detected by MODIS. These results may enhance our understanding of large scale patterns of lightning fire activity, and can be used to identify the broad scale factors controlling fire occurrence.
Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, IEEE Journal of (Volume:5 , Issue: 5 )
Date of Publication: Oct. 2012