International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

The formation of charcoal reflectance and its potential use in post-fire assessments

Claire M. Belcher A B and Victoria A. Hudspith A

A wildFIRE Lab, Hatherly Laboratories, University of Exeter, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, Devon, EX4 4PS, UK.

B Corresponding author. Email: c.belcher@exeter.ac.uk

International Journal of Wildland Fire 25(7) 775-779 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF15185
Submitted: 21 October 2015  Accepted: 5 April 2016   Published: 11 May 2016

Abstract

Charcoal has an exceptional ability to reflect light when viewed using reflectance microscopy. The amount of light reflected is variable depending on the differential ordering of graphite-like phases within the charcoal itself. It has been suggested that this relates to the temperature of formation, whereby higher formation temperatures result in high charcoal reflectance. However, this explanation is derived from oven-based chars that do not well represent the natural combustion process. Here, we have experimentally created charcoals using a cone calorimeter, in order to explore the development of charcoal reflectance during pre-ignition heating and peak heat-release rate, through to the end of flaming and the transition to char oxidation. We find that maximum charcoal reflectance is reached at the transition between pyrolysis and char oxidation, before its conversion to mineral ash, and indicates that our existing understanding of reflectance is in error. We suggest that charcoal reflectance warrants additional study as it may provide a useful quantitative addition to ground-based fire severity surveys, because it may allow exploration of surface heating after the main fire front has passed and the fire transitions to smouldering phases.

Additional keywords: calorimetry, fire severity, pyrogenic carbon, reflectance microscopy, wildfire.


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