Calibrating satellite-based indices of burn severity from UAV-derived metrics of a burned boreal forest in NWT, Canada
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Robert H. Fraser; Jurjen van der Sluijs; Ronald J. Hall
Publication Year: 2017

Cataloging Information

  • boreal forest
  • burn severity
  • CBI - composite burn index
  • fire severity
  • Landsat
  • NBR - Normalized Burn Ratio
  • NWT - Northwest Territories
  • UAS - Unmanned Aircraft System
  • UAV - unmanned aerial vehicles
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: August 23, 2019
FRAMES Record Number: 58478


Wildfires are a dominant disturbance to boreal forests, and in North America, they typically cause widespread tree mortality. Forest fire burn severity is often measured at a plot scale using the Composite Burn Index (CBI), which was originally developed as a means of assigning severity levels to the Normalized Burn Ratio (NBR) computed from Landsat satellite imagery. Our study investigated the potential to map biophysical indicators of burn severity (residual green vegetation and charred organic surface) at very high (3 cm) resolution, using color orthomosaics and vegetation height models derived from UAV-based photographic surveys and Structure from Motion methods. These indicators were scaled to 30 m resolution Landsat pixel footprints and compared to the post-burn NBR (post-NBR) and differenced NBR (dNBR) ratios computed from pre- and post-fire Landsat imagery. The post-NBR showed the strongest relationship to both the fraction of charred surface (exponential R2 = 0.79) and the fraction of green crown vegetation above 5 m (exponential R2 = 0.81), while the dNBR was more closely related to the total green vegetation fraction (exponential R2 = 0.69). Additionally, the UAV green fraction and Landsat indices could individually explain more than 50% of the variance in the overall CBI measured in 39 plots. These results provide a proof-of-concept for using low-cost UAV photogrammetric mapping to quantify key measures of boreal burn severity at landscape scales, which could be used to calibrate and assign a biophysical meaning to Landsat spectral indices for mapping severity at regional scales.

Online Link(s):
Fraser, Robert H.; Van der Sluijs, Jurjen; Hall, Ronald J. 2017. Calibrating satellite-based indices of burn severity from UAV-derived metrics of a burned boreal forest in NWT, Canada. Remote Sensing 9(3):279.