International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Using alternative soil moisture estimates in the McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index

Chiara M. Holgate A B D , Albert I. J. M. van Dijk A C , Geoffrey J. Cary A C and Marta Yebra A C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Acton, ACT 2601, Australia.

B Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, UNSW Australia, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.

C Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, Melbourne, Vic. 3002, Australia.

D Corresponding author: chiara.holgate@anu.edu.au

International Journal of Wildland Fire 26(9) 806-819 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF16217
Submitted: 11 December 2016  Accepted: 12 June 2017   Published: 18 August 2017

Abstract

McArthur’s Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI) incorporates the Keetch–Byram Drought Index (KBDI) estimate of soil dryness. Improved approaches for estimating soil moisture now exist, with potential for informing the calculation of FFDI. We evaluated the effect, compared with KBDI, of two alternative methods of estimating soil moisture: the rainfall-based Antecedent Precipitation Index and soil moisture from the Soil Moisture Ocean Salinity satellite mission. These methods were used to calculate FFDI over a sample period of 5 years (2010–14) at seven locations around Australia. The effect of substituting the alternatives for KBDI, and of entirely replacing the Drought Factor (DF) (a measure of fuel availability in FFDI) with the alternatives was explored by studying the effect on magnitude, distribution and timing of FFDI and associated Fire Danger Rating (FDR). Both approaches predicted drier soil conditions than KBDI, resulting in fewer Low–Moderate FDR days and more days of High FDR and above. The alternative methods replacing KBDI had little effect on seasonal patterns of FDR. Of all approaches, replacing DF entirely with the soil moisture alternatives most closely mimicked McArthur’s FFDI. Overall, if alternative measures of soil moisture are adopted for FFDI, the entire replacement of the DF term should be considered.


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