European Wildfire Season From Space

 European Wildfire Season From Space

2021 looks to be a record year for wildfire in Europe, at least if you look at it through the lens of Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) Rapid Mapping Activations.

Between January and August 2021 the service was activated 27 times for wildfires in and around Europe. The previous highest year was 2019, with 22 activations in Europe in that same timeframe.

Copernicus EMS Wildfire Activations in Europe 2021 (click to open full list)

A few weeks ago Groundstation.Space reported a record of twelve wildfire activations in three weeks. Now at the end of August, which saw 17 wildfire activations in one month, we can conclude that this unprecedented list of fires detected from space has grown even further.

Climate Change?

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that this increase in activations is due to climate change, but although that may be an underlying case, it is more likely that this increase can be contributed to a more effective use of the Copernicus infrastructure for wildfire detection. With new Sentinel and commercial satellites added to the system every year, with increasingly sophisticated sensors for precisely detecting fire and fire damage, the Copernicus EMS system is able to support emergency services more frequently and more effectively over time.

Below table shows a year-over-year increase in CEMS Activations, with flood and wildfire support representing two thirds of all activations (336 of 497 activations).

All Copernicus EMS Activations to date (analysis and categorisation: author)

Real-time fire risk mapping

In addition to more frequent activations for live wildfires, there have also been improvements in mapping real-time fire risks through the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS). This system offers a very easy-to-use Current Situation Viewer, overlaying a map with colour coded fire risk levels, accessible to anyone.

In addition to the fire risk, it can also show current active fires and recent fire damage, as shown in below image.

Fire Risk Map of 16 August 2021 (source: EFFIS)

Since 1998, EFFIS is supported by a network of experts from the countries in what is called the Expert Group on Forest Fires, which is registered under the Secretariat General of the European Commission. Currently, this group consists on experts from 43 countries in European, Middle East and North African countries. In 2015, EFFIS became one of the components of the Emergency Management Services in the EU Copernicus program.

Future of Wildfire

It is a fact that continuing climate change will increase the world wide risk of wildfires in the years to come, spreading to regions previously less likely to be subject to large-scale fire damage, like the Arctic. With services like EFFIS and CEMS the European Union is using its space and ground infrastructure to map fire risks and detect fires as quickly as possible. With new satellites, improved forecasting techniques, artificial intelligence to analyse data and of course more human resources, space has become a leading element in the fight against the effects of climate change.

Remco Timmermans

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