Biomass burning in the Alaskan interior is already a major disturbance and source of carbon emissions, and is likely to increase in response to the warming and drying predicted for the future climate. In addition to quantifying changes to the spatial and temporal patterns of burned areas, observing variations in severity is the key to studying the impact of changes to the fire regime on carbon cycling, energy budgets, and post-fire succession. Remote sensing indices of fire severity have not consistently been well-correlated with in situ observations of important severity characteristics in Alaskan black spruce stands, including depth of burning of the surface organic layer. The incorporation of ancillary data such as in situ observations and GIS layers with spectral data from Landsat TM/ETM+ greatly improved efforts to map the reduction of the organic layer in burned black spruce stands. Using a regression tree approach, the R2 of the organic layer depth reduction models was 0.60 and 0.55 (p < 0.01) for relative and absolute depth reduction, respectively. All of the independent variables used by the regression tree to estimate burn depth can be obtained independently of field observations. Implementation of a gradient boosting algorithm improved the R2 to 0.80 and 0.79 (p < 0.01) for absolute and relative organic layer depth reduction, respectively. Independent variables used in the regression tree model of burn depth included topographic position, remote sensing indices related to soil and vegetation characteristics, timing of the fire event, and meteorological data. Post-fire organic layer depth characteristics are determined for a large (> 200,000 ha) fire to identify areas that are potentially vulnerable to a shift in post-fire succession. This application showed that 12% of this fire event experienced fire severe enough to support a change in post-fire succession. We conclude that non-parametric models and ancillary data are useful in the modeling of the surface organic layer fire depth. Because quantitative differences in post-fire surface characteristics do not directly influence spectral properties, these modeling techniques provide better information than the use of remote sensing data alone.
Additional publication details
Modeling fire severity in black spruce stands in the Alaskan boreal forest using spectral and non-spectral geospatial data