The Landsat Burned Area algorithm and products for the conterminous United States

Remote Sensing of Environment
By: , and 



Complete and accurate burned area map data are needed to document spatial and temporal patterns of fires, to quantify their drivers, and to assess the impacts on human and natural systems. In this study, we developed the Landsat Burned Area (BA) algorithm, an update from the Landsat Burned Area Essential Climate Variable (BAECV) algorithm. Here, we present the BA algorithm and products, changes relative to the BAECV algorithm and products, and updated validation metrics. We also present spatial and temporal patterns of burned area across the conterminous U.S., how burned area varies in relation to the number of operational Landsat sensors, and a comparison with other burned area datasets, including the BAECV, Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS), GeoMAC, and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) MCD64A1.006 data. The BA algorithm identifies burned areas in analysis ready data (ARD) time-series of Landsat imagery from 1984 through 2018 using machine learning, thresholding, and image segmentation. Validation with reference data from high-resolution commercial satellite imagery resulted in omission and commission error rates averaging 19% and 41%, respectively. In comparison, validation with Landsat reference data had omission and commission error rates averaging 40% and 28%, respectively when burned areas in cultivated crops and pasture/hay land-cover types were excluded. Both validation tests documented lower commission error rates relative to the BAECV products. The amount of burned area detected varies not only in response to climate but also with the number of operational sensors and scenes collected. The combined amount of burned area detected by multiple sensors was larger than from any individual sensor, but there was no significant difference between individual sensors. Therefore, we used BA products from individual sensors to assess trends over time and all available sensors to compare with other existing BA products. From 1984 through 2018, annual burned area averaged 30,000 km2, ranged between 14,000 km2 in 1991 and 46,500 km2 in 2012, and increased over time at a rate of 356 km2/year. Compared to existing burned area products, the new Landsat BA products identified 29% more burned area than the BAECV products (1984–2015), 183% more than the MTBS/GeoMAC products (1984–2018), and 56% more than the MCD64A1.006 products (2003–2018). The products had similar patterns of year-to-year variability; the R2 values of linear regressions between annual burned area were >0.70 with the BAECV products and the MTBS/GeoMAC products, but somewhat lower for the MCD64A1.006 product (R2 = 0.66). The BA products are routinely produced as new Landsat data are collected and provide a unique data source to monitor and assess the spatial and temporal patterns and the impacts of fire.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The Landsat Burned Area algorithm and products for the conterminous United States
Series title Remote Sensing of Environment
DOI 10.1016/j.rse.2020.111801
Volume 244
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
Description 111801, 24 p.
Country United States
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