For this study, we characterized the dependence of fire counts (FCs) on soil moisture (SM) at global and sub-global scales using 15 years of remote sensing data. We argue that this mathematical relationship serves as an effective way to predict fire because it is a proxy for the semi-quantitative fire–productivity relationship that describes the tradeoff between fuel availability and climate as constraints on fire activity. We partitioned the globe into land-use and land-cover (LULC) categories of forest, grass, cropland, and pasture to investigate how the fire–soil moisture (fire–SM) behavior varies as a function of LULC. We also partitioned the globe into four broadly defined biomes (Boreal, Grassland-Savanna, Temperate, and Tropical) to study the dependence of fire–SM behavior on LULC across those biomes. The forest and grass LULC fire–SM curves are qualitatively similar to the fire–productivity relationship with a peak in fire activity at intermediate SM, a steep decline in fire activity at low SM (productivity constraint), and gradual decline as SM increases (climate constraint), but our analysis highlights how forests and grasses differ across biomes as well. Pasture and cropland LULC are a distinctly human use of the landscape, and fires detected on those LULC types include intentional fires. Cropland fire–SM curves are similar to those for grass LULC, but pasture fires are evident at higher SM values than other LULC. This suggests a departure from the expected climate constraint when burning is happening at non-optimal flammability conditions. Using over a decade of remote sensing data, our results show that quantifying fires relative to a single physical climate variable (soil moisture) is possible on both cultivated and uncultivated landscapes. Linking fire to observable soil moisture conditions for different land-cover types has important applications in fire management and fire modeling.
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