Effects of spatial heterogeneity in moisture content on the horizontal spread of peat fires

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Title: Effects of spatial heterogeneity in moisture content on the horizontal spread of peat fires
Authors: Prat-Guitart, Nuria
Rein, Guillermo
Hadden, Rory M.
Belcher, Claire M.
Yearsley, Jonathan M.
Permanent link: http://hdl.handle.net/10197/7881
Date: 1-Dec-2016
Abstract: The gravimetric moisture content of peat is the main factor limiting the ignition and spread propagation of smouldering fires. Our aim is to use controlled laboratory experiments to better understand how the spread of smouldering fires is influenced in natural landscape conditions where the moisture content of the top peat layer is not homogeneous. In this paper, we study for the first time the spread of peat fires across a sharp spatial gradient of two moisture contents (dry/wet) in the laboratory. The experiments were undertaken using an open-top insulated box (22×18×6 cm) filled with milled peat. The peat was ignited at one side of the box initiating smouldering and horizontal spread. Measurements of the peak temperature inside the peat, fire duration and longwave thermal radiation from the burning samples revealed local changes of the smouldering behaviour in response to sharp gradients in moisture content. Both, peak temperatures and radiation in the wetter peat (after the moisture gradient) were sensitive to the drier moisture conditions (preceeding the moisture gradient). Drier peat conditions before the moisture gradient led to higher temperatures and higher radiation flux from the fire during the first 6 cm of horizontal spread into a wet peat patch. The total spread distance into a wet peat patch was affected by the moisture content gradient. We predicted that in most peat moisture gradients of relevance to natural ecosystems the fire self-extinguishes within the first 10 cm of horizontal spread into a wet peat patch. Spread distances of more than 10 cm are limited to wet peat patches below 160% moisture content (mass of water per mass of dry peat). We found that spatial gradients of moisture content have important local effects on the horizontal spread and should be considered in field and modelling studies.
Funding Details: European Research Council
Higher Education Authority
Type of material: Journal Article
Publisher: Elsevier
Copyright (published version): 2016 the Authors
Keywords: Peatland;Smouldering;Propagation;Breakpoint analysis;Step-change;Infrared image analysis
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.02.145
Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
Appears in Collections:Biology & Environmental Science Research Collection
Earth Institute Research Collection

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