What determines variation in remotely sensed fire severity? Consideration of remote sensing limitations and confounding factors

Matthew G. Gale*, Geoffrey J. Cary

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Analyses of the effects of topography, weather, land management, and fuel on fire severity are increasingly common, and generally apply fire severity indices derived from satellite optical remote sensing. However, these indices are commonly interpreted with insufficient appreciation for their limitations and may be inappropriately invoked as representing physical fire effects and fire behaviour. For a large wildfire in southeast Australia, we investigated three considerations for inferring robust insights from fire severity analyses-the potentially confounding influences of pre-fire vegetation height and tall vegetation cover, and the choice of fire severity response variable. Using nonparametric regression, we found that different fire severity indices gave rise to substantially different modelled relationships with commonly invoked environmental predictors, as is consistent with dissimilarities in index design. Further, pre-fire vegetation height was a strong control of fire severity, with equivalent importance to weather. Importantly, strong covariation between vegetation height and environmental predictors suggests that modelled fire severity effects are strongly influenced by variation in vertical distance between flames and vegetation, and this confounds fire behaviour insights. To enable more robust and mechanistic insights into the determinants of fire severity, we recommend greater consideration of the meaning and limitations of optical remote sensing indices.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)291-305
    Number of pages15
    JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
    Volume31
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

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