Combining satellite-based fire observations and ground-based lightning detections to identify lightning fires across the conterminous USA

Avi Bar-Massada, Todd J. Hawbaker, Susan I. Stewart, Volker C. Radeloff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 km 2 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6184334
Pages (from-to)1438-1447
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Manuscript received January 09, 2012; revised February 21, 2012; accepted March 21, 2012. Date of publication April 16, 2012; date of current version November 14, 2012. This work was supported in part by the US Forest Service Northern Research Station. A. Bar-Massada and V. C. Radeloff are with the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706 USA (e-mail: T. J. Hawbaker is with the Rocky Mountain Geographic Science Center, US Geological Survey, Denver, CO 80225 USA (e-mail: S. I. Stewart is with the Northern Research Station, US Forest Service, Evanston, IL 60201 USA (e-mail: sistewart@fs.fed). Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/JSTARS.2012.2193665


  • Fire
  • NLDN
  • lightning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computers in Earth Sciences
  • Atmospheric Science


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