Validation of the USGS Landsat Burned Area Essential Climate Variable (BAECV) across the conterminous United States

Remote Sensing of Environment

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The Landsat Burned Area Essential Climate Variable (BAECV), developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), capitalizes on the long temporal availability of Landsat imagery to identify burned areas across the conterminous United States (CONUS) (1984–2015). Adequate validation of such products is critical for their proper usage and interpretation. Validation of coarse-resolution products often relies on independent data derived from moderate-resolution sensors (e.g., Landsat). Validation of Landsat products, in turn, is challenging because there is no corresponding source of high-resolution, multispectral imagery that has been systematically collected in space and time over the entire temporal extent of the Landsat archive. Because of this, comparison between high-resolution images and Landsat science products can help increase user's confidence in the Landsat science products, but may not, alone, be adequate. In this paper, we demonstrate an approach to systematically validate the Landsat-derived BAECV product. Burned area extent was mapped for Landsat image pairs using a manually trained semi-automated algorithm that was manually edited across 28 path/rows and five different years (1988, 1993, 1998, 2003, 2008). Three datasets were independently developed by three analysts and the datasets were integrated on a pixel by pixel basis in which at least one to all three analysts were required to agree a pixel was burned. We found that errors within our Landsat reference dataset could be minimized by using the rendition of the dataset in which pixels were mapped as burned if at least two of the three analysts agreed. BAECV errors of omission and commission for the detection of burned pixels averaged 42% and 33%, respectively for CONUS across all five validation years. Errors of omission and commission were lowest across the western CONUS, for example in the shrub and scrublands of the Arid West (31% and 24%, respectively), and highest in the grasslands and agricultural lands of the Great Plains in central CONUS (62% and 57%, respectively). The BAECV product detected most (> 65%) fire events > 10 ha across the western CONUS (Arid and Mountain West ecoregions). Our approach and results demonstrate that a thorough validation of Landsat science products can be completed with independent Landsat-derived reference data, but could be strengthened by the use of complementary sources of high-resolution data.

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Journal Article
Validation of the USGS Landsat Burned Area Essential Climate Variable (BAECV) across the conterminous United States
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Remote Sensing of Environment
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Contributing office(s):
Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
14 p.
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United States