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A MODIS direct broadcast algorithm for mapping wildfire burned area in the western United States

Author(s): Shawn P. Urbanski, J. Meghan Salmon, Bryce L. Nordgren, Wei Min Hao
Year Published: 2009

Improved wildland fire emission inventory methods are needed to support air quality forecasting and guide the development of air shed management strategies. Air quality forecasting requires dynamic fire emission estimates that are generated in a timely manner to support real-time operations. In the regulatory and planning realm, emission inventories are essential for quantitatively assessing the contribution of wildfire to air pollution. The development of wildland fire emission inventories depends on burned area as a critical input. This study presents a Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) - direct broadcast (DB) burned area mapping algorithm designed to support air quality forecasting and emission inventory development. The algorithm combines active fire locations and single satellite scene burn scar detections to provide a rapid yet robust mapping of burned area. Using the U.S. Forest Service Fire Sciences Laboratory (FiSL) MODIS-DB receiving station in Missoula, Montana, the algorithm provided daily measurements of burned area for wildfire events in the western U.S. in 2006 and 2007. We evaluated the algorithm's fire detection rate and burned area mapping using fire perimeter data and burn scar information derived from high resolution satellite imagery. The FiSL MODIS DB system detected 87% of all reference fires N4 km2, and 93% of all reference fires N10 km2. The burned area was highly correlated (R2=0.93) with a high resolution imagery reference burn scar dataset, but exhibited a large over estimation of burned area (56%). The reference burn scar dataset was used to calibrate the algorithm response and quantify the uncertainty in the burned area measurement at the fire incident level. An objective, empirical error based approach was employed to quantify the uncertainty of our burned area measurement and provide a metric that is meaningful in context of remotely sensed burned area and emission inventories. The algorithm uncertainty is 36% for fires 50 km2 in size, improving to 31% at a fire size of 100 km2. Fires in this size range account for a substantial portion of burned area in the western U.S. (77% of burned area is due to fires N50 km2, and 66% results from fires N100 km2). The dominance of these large wildfires in burned area, duration, and emissions makes these events a significant concern of air quality forecasters and regulators. With daily coverage at 1-km2 spatial resolution, and a quantified measurement uncertainty, the burned area mapping algorithm presented in this paper is well suited for the development of wildfire emission inventories. Furthermore, the algorithm's DB implementation enables time sensitive burned area mapping to support operational air quality forecasting.

Citation: Urbanski, S. P.; Salmon, J. M.; Nordgren, B. L.; Hao, W. M. 2009. A MODIS direct broadcast algorithm for mapping wildfire burned area in the western United States. Remote Sensing of Environment. 113: 2511-2526.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - First Order, Management Approaches, Smoke Monitoring, Air Quality, Smoke & Air Quality, Fire & Smoke Models, Smoke Emissions
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 8191
FRAMES RCS number: 8337
Record updated: Nov 29, 2017