International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Is burn severity related to fire intensity? Observations from landscape scale remote sensing

Heather Heward A , Alistair M. S. Smith A D , David P. Roy B , Wade T. Tinkham A , Chad M. Hoffman C , Penelope Morgan A and Karen O. Lannom A

A Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844, USA.

B Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD 57007, USA.

C Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA.

D Corresponding author. Email: alistair@uidaho.edu

International Journal of Wildland Fire 22(7) 910-918 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF12087
Submitted: 2 June 2012  Accepted: 19 March 2013   Published: 23 July 2013

Abstract

Biomass burning by wildland fires has significant ecological, social and economic impacts. Satellite remote sensing provides direct measurements of radiative energy released by the fire (i.e. fire intensity) and surrogate measures of ecological change due to the fire (i.e. fire or burn severity). Despite anecdotal observations causally linking fire intensity with severity, the nature of any relationship has not been examined over extended spatial scales. We compare fire intensities defined by Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Fire Radiative Power (MODIS FRP) products with Landsat-derived spectral burn severity indices for 16 fires across a vegetation structure continuum in the western United States. Per-pixel comparison of MODIS FRP data within individual fires with burn severity indices is not reliable because of known satellite temporal and spatial FRP undersampling. Across the fires, 69% of the variation in relative differenced normalized burn ratio was explained by the 90th percentile of MODIS FRP. Therefore, distributional MODIS FRP measures (median and 90th-percentile FRP) derived from multiple MODIS overpasses of the actively burning fire event may be used to predict potential long-term negative ecological effects for individual fires.


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