Multispectral satellite data have become a common tool used in the mapping of wildland fire effects. Fire severity, defined as the degree to which a site has been altered, is often the variable mapped. The Normalized Burn Ratio (NBR) used in an absolute difference change detection protocol (dNBR), has become the remote sensing method of choice for US Federal land management agencies to map fire severity due to wildland fire. However, absolute differenced vegetation indices are correlated to the pre-fire chlorophyll content of the vegetation occurring within the fire perimeter. Normalizing dNBR to produce a relativized dNBR (RdNBR) removes the biasing effect of the pre-fire condition. Employing RdNBR hypothetically allows creating categorical classifications using the same thresholds for fires occurring in similar vegetation types without acquiring additional calibration field data on each fire. In this paper we tested this hypothesis by developing thresholds on random training datasets, and then comparing accuracies for (1) fires that occurred within the same geographic region as the training dataset and in similar vegetation, and (2) fires from a different geographic region that is climatically and floristically similar to the training dataset region but supports more complex vegetation structure. We additionally compared map accuracies for three measures of fire severity: the composite burn index (CBI), percent change in tree canopy cover, and percent change in tree basal area. User's and producer's accuracies were highest for the most severe categories, ranging from 70.7% to 89.1%. Accuracies of the moderate fire severity category for measures describing effects only to trees (percent change in canopy cover and basal area) indicated that the classifications were generally not much better than random. Accuracies of the moderate category for the CBI classifications were somewhat better, averaging in the 50%-60% range. These results underscore the difficulty in isolating fire effects to individual vegetation strata when fire effects are mixed. We conclude that the models presented here and in Miller and Thode ([Miller, J.D. & Thode, A.E., (2007). Quantifying burn severity in a heterogeneous landscape with a relative version of the delta Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR). Remote Sensing of Environment, 109, 66-80.]) can produce fire severity classifications (using either CBI, or percent change in canopy cover or basal area) that are of similar accuracy in fires not used in the original calibration process, at least in conifer dominated vegetation types in Mediterranean-climate California.
Additional publication details
Calibration and validation of the relative differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (RdNBR) to three measures of fire severity in the Sierra Nevada and Klamath Mountains, California, USA