Identifying Key Drivers of Peatland Fires Across Kalimantan's Ex-Mega Rice Project Using Machine Learning

Alexander J. Horton (Corresponding Author), Vili Virkki, Anu Launela, Jukka Miettinen, Sara Alibakhshi, Matti Kummu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Throughout Indonesia ecological degradation, agricultural expansion, and the digging of drainage canals has compromised the integrity and functioning of peatland forests. Fragmented landscapes of scrubland, cultivation, degraded forest, and newly established plantations are then susceptible to extensive fires that recur each year. However, a comprehensive understanding of all the drivers of fire distribution and the conditions of initiation is still absent. Here we show the first analysis in the region that encompasses a wide range of driving factors within a single model that captures the inter-annual variation, as well as the spatial distribution of peatland fires. We developed a fire susceptibility model using machine learning (XGBoost random forest) that characterizes the relationships between key predictor variables and the distribution of historic fire locations. We then determined the relative importance of each predictor variable in controlling the initiation and spread of fires. The model included land-cover classifications, a forest clearance index, vegetation indices, drought indices, distances to infrastructure, topography, and peat depth, as well as the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI). The model performance consistently scores highly in both accuracy and precision across all years (>75% and >67.5% respectively), though recall metrics are much lower (>25%). Our results confirm the anthropogenic dependence of extreme fires in the region, with distance to settlements and distance to canals consistently weighted the most important driving factors within the model structure. Our results may help target the root causes of fire initiation and propagation to better construct regulation and rehabilitation efforts to mitigate future fires.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021EA001873
JournalEarth and Space Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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