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FST Graduate Research | Toward an early warning system for Bush Fires

Bush fire in Kingston and Saint Andrew, Jamaica

In 2019, bushfires in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, burnt more than 200 acres and resulted in over Jamaican $45 million in estimated losses. According to a new study entitled “Characterizing bushfire occurrences over Jamaica using the MODIS C6 Fire Archive 2001-2019” by graduate student Candice Charlton (Applied Physics) and Dr. Tannecia Stephenson, Prof. Michael Taylor and Christina Douglas (Department of Physics) recently published in a special edition of Atmosphere, knowledge that it was an El Niño year might have alerted disaster managers to Jamaica’s greater susceptibility to such events and helped them to better prepare.

Ms Candice Charlton

In the study, the researchers used Jamaica Fire Brigade and satellite fire incident data as well as climate data including from the Meteorological Service of Jamaica to explore trends in bushfire occurrences across Jamaica. The study showed that bush fire occurrences tend to peak in March each year, with a secondary maximum in July, coinciding with Jamaica’s driest months. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of bushfires across Jamaica increased from 3716 to 5838, with bush fires in July and in eastern Jamaican also steadily increasing over the full twenty year record. It is however southern Jamaica and in particular the parish of Clarendon, known for its climatological dryness, which shows the greatest fire frequencies. The study further established that there are five-year and three and a half year cycles of peak occurrence, which are strongly connected to changes in oceanic and climatic conditions in both the Atlantic and Pacific (e.g. as El Niño events). Importantly, the study provides important information which can be used to develop an early warning system for Jamaica, by suggesting key climate variables to be monitored as indicators of high fire potential years. Supplied with this kind of information there is much that can be done by the Jamaica Fire Brigade and other stakeholders with respect to fire management.

To read the study:
Charlton, C. S., T. S. Stephenson, M. A. Taylor, C. A. Douglas, 2021: Characterizing bushfire occurrences over Jamaica using the MODIS C6 Fire Archive 2001-2019.  Atmosphere 12, no. 3: 390
To find out more about research in the Department of Physics:

Published on 12 Apr, 2021

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