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Mean composite fire severity metrics computed with Google Earth Engine offer improved accuracy and expanded mapping potential

June 7, 2018

Landsat-based fire severity datasets are an invaluable resource for monitoring and research purposes. These gridded fire severity datasets are generally produced with pre-and post-fire imagery to estimate the degree of fire-induced ecological change. Here, we introduce methods to produce three Landsat-based fire severity metrics using the Google Earth Engine (GEE) platform: the delta normalized burn ratio (dNBR), the relativized delta normalized burn ratio (RdNBR), and the relativized burn ratio (RBR). Our methods do not rely on time-consuming a priori scene selection and instead use a mean compositing approach in which all valid pixels (e.g. cloud-free) over a pre-specified date range (pre- and post-fire) are stacked and the mean value for each pixel over each stack is used to produce the resulting fire severity datasets. This approach demonstrates that fire severity datasets can be produced with relative ease and speed compared the standard approach in which one pre-fire and post-fire scene are judiciously identified and used to produce fire severity datasets. We also validate the GEE-derived fire severity metrics using field-based fire severity plots for 18 fires in the western US. These validations are compared to Landsat-based fire severity datasets produced using only one pre- and post-fire scene, which has been the standard approach in producing such datasets since their inception. Results indicate that the GEE-derived fire severity datasets show improved validation statistics compared to parallel versions in which only one pre-fire and post-fire scene are used. We provide code and a sample geospatial fire history layer to produce dNBR, RdNBR, and RBR for the 18 fires we evaluated. Although our approach requires that a geospatial fire history layer (i.e. fire perimeters) be produced independently and prior to applying our methods, we suggest our GEE methodology can reasonably be implemented on hundreds to thousands of fires, thereby increasing opportunities for fire severity monitoring and research across the globe.

Publication Year 2018
Title Mean composite fire severity metrics computed with Google Earth Engine offer improved accuracy and expanded mapping potential
DOI 10.3390/rs10060879
Authors Sean Parks, Lisa M. Holsinger, Morgan Voss, Rachel A. Loehman, Nathaniel P. Robinson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Remote Sensing
Index ID 70197485
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Geography