New datasets to understand wildfires and river flows

Written by Francesca Di Giuseppe and Christel Prudhomme on 6 November 2019 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

Francesca Di Giuseppe and Christel Prudhomme, from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), explain how new data can help in the fight against climate change.

In recent years, hot and dry conditions have led to wildfires in parts of Europe not affected historically | Photo credit: © ico_k-pax / iStock / Getty Images Plus - from ECMWF


Fire and water can be some of the most destructive forces on the planet.

While they are forces of nature, the risks of floods, droughts and wildfires are being altered by climate change.

The world’s first publicly available near real-time river discharge and fire danger reanalyses have just been released. They provide day-by-day information over the whole of the globe stretching back almost 40 years.


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They are an invaluable resource that can help us understand how unusual today’s wildfires and river flows are and how they are changing.

The new datasets use the latest ECMWF reanalyses (ERA5) – a blend of past weather forecasts and in-situ and satellite observations – created as part of the Copernicus Climate Change Service. Data from ERA5, such as temperature, rainfall and run-off, are fed through models of river flow and fire danger to produce historical datasets running from 1980 to the present day. Such unique global reanalyses are particularly important in areas of the world with limited local observations.

"Take the recent fires in the Amazon, California and the Arctic for example. The fire danger dataset could be used to assess whether the flammability in these regions was unusually high, which might explain the fires’ occurrence"

Furthermore, the data are updated in near real-time so people can access current river flow and fire danger conditions anywhere in the world with less than a week’s delay.

The data are produced by the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), as part of our responsibilities under the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS), implemented by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).

The Copernicus Programme is the European system for monitoring the Earth, coordinated and managed by the European Commission.

The datasets’ production involves several elements of the Copernicus Programme such as the European Forest Fire Information and Global Flood Awareness Systems (EFFIS and GloFAS) of CEMS, and the latest climate reanalysis (ERA5) and the Climate Data Store of the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S implemented by ECMWF). Bringing these elements of the Copernicus Programme together has made the development of these reanalyses rapid and efficient and is a good example of the synergies being created within the Copernicus Programme.

The datasets provide globally complete, daily information: it is this homogeneity in space and time which makes the new datasets so powerful.

Take the recent fires in the Amazon, California and the Arctic for example. The fire danger dataset could be used to assess whether the flammability in these regions was unusually high, which might explain the fires’ occurrence.

The new reanalyses provide an index of fire danger and will be instrumental for identifying changing patterns in fire prone areas across the world. The data are not of fire occurrence itself, which depends on a mechanism to ignite the fire, but the chance of it being sustainable and spreading once ignited. The risks of wildfires increase when ground conditions become drier, fuel (such as dead vegetation) builds up and strong winds increase the likelihood and speed of spread.

"The near real-time extension of the data provides a unique opportunity to monitor the status of all rivers across the world, so that it can be acted upon by users"

The fire danger reanalyses complement other fire-related Copernicus products, such as the biomass-burning emissions and the burnt area product made available by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS – implemented by ECMWF) and the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service (CLMS – implemented by the European Environment Agency and the JRC), respectively.

The river flow data can help us assess the changing risks of low river flow, which can have major impacts on water availability for agriculture, industry and energy generation for example. While high river flows can lead to flooding which can often have humanitarian, economic and infrastructure implications.

The near real-time extension of the data provides a unique opportunity to monitor the status of all rivers across the world, so that it can be acted upon by users.

The reanalyses do not include the effects of water abstraction from rivers and have a simple representation of dams and reservoirs.


               

                    Daily river discharge data are available for all rivers across the world from 1980 to the present day.

The data are being made available through the Climate Data Store which has been developed as part of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, also implemented by ECMWF. The Climate Data Store provides an easy to use interface to the data, all of which is freely available to everyone.

For more information about ECMWF, you can visithttps://www.ecmwf.int/

This article is in association with ECMWF

About the author

  

(left) Francesca Di Giuseppe & (right) Christel Prudhomme

Francesca Di Giuseppe and Christel Prudhomme are senior scientists at the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), focusing on fire and flood forecasting respectively.

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