Utilizing satellite radar remote sensing for burn severity estimation

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© 2018 Elsevier B.V. The increasing knowledge in the capabilities of satellite imagery to hazard applications is especially useful in emergency situations where timing and ability to cover large areas are of the essence. For optical imagery, cloud coverage can corrupt an image rendering it unusable for intended emergency analyses. This study proposes the use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery for burn severity analysis for western United States sites, as an alternative to its optical based counterpart, differenced normalized burn ratio (dNBR). Unlike optical sensors, the radar sensor is an active sensor that is able to penetrate clouds and smoke, an attribute that is crucial in emergency situations where immediate burn severity data are needed to assess the vulnerability of fire affected areas to post-fire hazards. Using C5 decision tree algorithm we developed a SAR-based metric that attempts to classify burn severities of fire affected locations in the western USA. We then compared the performance of this developed metric to that obtained by the existing dNBR metric, to determine if there is any merit to its adoption as an alternative for the western USA landscape. The results showed the SAR approach to produce higher validation metrics in comparison to the dNBR. It had an overall accuracy and kappa of 60% and 0.35, respectively, in comparison to the 35% and 0.1 of the dNBR approach. This shows an improved ability to quickly obtain burn severity data and make better informed decisions in emergency situations.

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International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation