Thermocouple probe orientation affects prescribed fire behavior estimation
Understanding the relationship between fire intensity and fuel mass is essential information for scientists and forest managers seeking to manage forests using prescribed fires. Peak burning temperature, duration of heating, and area under the temperature profile are fire behavior metrics obtained from thermocouple-datalogger assemblies used to characterize prescribed burns. Despite their recurrent usage in prescribed burn studies, there is no simple protocol established to guide the orientation of thermocouple installation. Our results from dormant and growing season burns in coastal longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) forests in South Carolina suggest that thermocouples located horizontally at the litter-soil interface record significantly higher estimates of peak burning temperature, duration of heating, and area under the temperature profile than thermocouples extending 28 cm vertically above the litter-soil interface (p < 0.01). Surprisingly, vertical and horizontal estimates of these measures did not show strong correlation with one another (r2 £ 0.14). The horizontal duration of heating values were greater in growing season burns than in dormant season burns (p < 0.01), but the vertical values did not indicate this difference (p = 0.52). Field measures of fuel mass and depth before and after fire showed promise as significant predictive variables (p £ 0.05) for the fire behavior metrics. However, all correlation coefficients were less than or equal to r2 = 0.41. Given these findings, we encourage scientists, researchers, and managers to carefully consider thermocouple orientation when investigating fire behavior metrics, as orientation may affect estimates of fire intensity and the distinction of fire treatment effects, particularly in forests with litter-dominated surface fuels.