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Pyrogeography in Conflict Contexts: Satellite Remote Sensing of Vegetation Fires in the Middle East

Funding agency: Swedish National Space Agency. Duration: 2023-2027

Wildfires have cross-sectoral impacts and are often harmful to ecosystems and societies. In recent years, there have been several large and devastating wildfires in Australia, the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, the West Coast of the United States, and in British Columbia, Canada. With the combined effects of climate change, an increasing human population and associated land use changes, understanding the patterns, drivers and effects of fires is fundamental to preventing fires and reducing harm to ecosystems and societies.

Humans constitute a major influence on fire spread and patterns, through providing sources of ignition, suppressing fires, and by changing the availability of fuels to burn. In conflict settings, wildfires have been found to increase with increased conflict intensity, suggesting a relationship between the two. Research on vegetation fires, their spatiotemporal patterns, and their links to biophysical as well as political and socio-economic factors in drylands is limited and no large scale, interdisciplinary assessment of fire dynamics have been carried out for the Middle East – a politically complex dryland region where research on social-ecological systems has been limited.

This project takes an interdisciplinary perspective and combines earth observation data with both biophysical, political, and socio-economic data to provide an integrated understanding of vegetation fires in drylands. This will form a foundation for the study of wildfires and other vegetation fires in geopolitically sensitive areas across the world. From a societal perspective, it is important to understand how wildfires spread and what biophysical and political mechanisms prevent their suppression. In cases like the Ukraine war, wildfires in the Chernobyl exclusion zone could become a global issue, through radioactive particles dispersed by fires. Knowledge about the conflict-fire nexus, as well as societal effects, is therefore crucial for building resilient societies with high adaptive capacity.


  • Investigate the fire regime, hotspots, and anomalies of vegetation fires across the Middle East over the period 2000-2020 (the “MODIS” era), and how these patterns relate to climate variability.
  • Map Active Fires and burn scars at medium to high spatial resolution across the Middle East using a machine learning approach.
  • Understand how these spatiotemporal patterns of vegetation fires relate to armed conflicts and study the geopolitical contexts in which vegetation fires occur at local level.
  • Assess the social-ecological impacts of vegetation fires at hotspot locations.

Research Team

Lina Eklund, Researcher at CMES and the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science (Lund University)

lina [dot] eklund [at] nateko [dot] lu [dot] se (lina[dot]eklund[at]nateko[dot]lu[dot]se)