A number of different satellite systems are currently providing information on fire susceptibility, active fires, burned area, fire emissions and post-fire recovery and a number of new systems are being designed. Some of these systems are operational and some experimental, some of the analysis methods are well developed and some are clearly in the research and development phase. A number of countries are collecting different ground-based information and compiling different statistics on the extent, characteristics and impacts of fires. Other countries have no capacity or system in place for collecting such data.
Global change researchers, natural resource managers and policy decision-makers require better information on the causes, location, extent and impacts of fire and the sources, volumes and impacts of the associated fire emissions. One can anticipate real benefits from increased communication between the various monitoring efforts and individual research programs but there has been little coordination between these various activities to-date. Piecing together a consistent view of fire at national, regional and global levels is a significant challenge. The information that is needed on fire is often missing and a system for monitoring effectively the long-term trends in global fire distributions and characteristics has yet to be supported. Such a global observation system is technically feasible but needs to be given priority by the funding agencies.
With the increasing interest in global environmental change, fire hazards, trans-boundary transport of fire products and changing fire regimes associated with anticipated climatic and demographic changes, there is a need to put in place the long-term observing systems to support improved resource management, policy decision making and global change research. The GOFC/GOLD Program (Global Observation of Forest Cover/Global Observation of Landcover Dynamics) has been established within the Integrated Global Observing System (IGOS) to provide a forum for international information exchange and observation and data coordination and a framework for establishing the necessary long-term monitoring systems.
The GOFC/GOLD-Fire Mapping and Monitoring Theme is aimed at refining and articulating the international observation requirements and making the best possible use of fire products from the existing and future satellite observing systems, for fire management, policy decision-making and global change research.
The call for a global fire monitoring and information system is not new. The concepts were discussed at a number of international meetings. Progress since that time has been slow but measurable. A number of satellite systems are currently used for different aspects of fire monitoring and a number of new capabilities are planned. The operational satellite systems although used for fire monitoring have not been designed with fire studies in mind and the operational agencies have not traditionally generated fire products.
Pathfinding initiatives and operational prototyping by individual research groups working with GOES, AVHRR, TRMM, ATSR and DMSP have provided examples of how future operational products can be generated and the feasibility of global fire monitoring. The NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), currently the only system generating the only global systematic daily fire product is providing a prototype for future operational fire monitoring from the proposed operational NPOESS VIIRS system. The MODIS Rapid Response System is also providing important advances in the web based distribution of global data within near real time of satellite acquisition. The MODIS and BIRD instruments, the most recently launched were designed with specific fire monitoring capabilities and are providing exciting new data for fire monitoring and characterization.
However, current satellite assets are significantly under-utilized for operational monitoring and the various current fire monitoring activities fall largely in the research domain. To improve operational use of the available information, increasing attention needs to be given to data availability, product accuracy, data continuity, data access and how the data are being used to provide useful information. There is currently no standard in-situ measurement/reporting system and national reporting is extremely variable and wholly inadequate to provide a consistent regional or global assessment. It is also often hard to relate the satellite and in-situ data reporting. In the next few years it will be necessary to develop not only the appropriate standard methods for fire monitoring but also the institutional infrastructures for operational global fire monitoring and reporting.
In 1997 the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) initiated Global Observation of Forest Cover (GOFC) as a pilot project to bring together data providers and information users to coordinate and contribute to an international effort to make information products from satellite and in-situ observations of forests more readily available worldwide. During the Design Phase of GOFC in 1998, Forest Fire Monitoring and Mapping was identified as one of three basic components of GOFC, and a component where rapid progress could be made through more effective coordination of existing efforts.
In 1999, a Committee was formed to organize a workshop to develop the Forest Fire Monitoring and Mapping component of GOFC. The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Ispra, Italy, hosted a workshop to bring the technology and user communities together, to help chart the course for the implementation of this international initiative. A report from this November 1999 workshop was made into a book in 2001. Conference participants prepared eighteen articles, which reviewed user requirements, the technical state of the art, and the international response to the need for greater integration of existing activities.
In 2000 GOFC became one of the five projects of the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS), which is sponsored by the International Global Observing System Partners (IGOS). Also in 2000, an Implementation Team (IT) was created to guide the development of the GOFC-Fire component and a relationship was formed with the newly formed CEOS Calibration and Validation Sub-Group on Land Product Validation (LPV). In 2001 GOFC-Fire held a joint workshop with the CEOS LPV on Fire Product Validation in Lisbon. At this meeting a number of refinements were made concerning the objectives of GOFC-Fire and its future direction.
In 2001 the Science and Technical Board of GOFC met in Frascati, Italy and recommended a transition to Global Observation of Forest Cover/Global Observation of Landcover Dynamics (GOFC/GOLD) to include non-forest areas. This was a logical transition from the Fire IT perspective, as fires occur in a number of biomes, not just in forested systems.
The Design Phase for GOFC/GOLD is now complete and implementation is underway through a series of targeted activities at the regional and global scale.