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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Validating burn severity classifications using Landsat imagery across western Canadian National Parks Soverel, Nicholas Osborne


National parks in western Canada experience wildland fire events at differing frequencies, intensities, and burn severities. These episodic disturbances have varying implications for various biotic and abiotic processes and patterns. To predict burn severity, the differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR) algorithm, derived from Landsat imagery, has been used extensively throughout the wildland fire community. Researchers have often employed this approach to study the effects of fire across multiple contrasting landscapes. Many remote sensing scientists have concluded that incorporating pre-fire information into the current remote sensing dNBR methodology may make such models more transferable. In the first study the main purpose was to investigate the accuracies of the absolute dNBR versus its relative form (RdNBR) to estimate burn severity, in which was hypothesized that RdNBR would outperform dNBR based on former research by Miller and Thode (2007). The secondary purpose was to examine and compare the accuracies of RdNBR and dNBR algorithms in pre-fire landscapes with low canopy closure and high heterogeneity. Results indicate that the RdNBR-derived model did not estimate burn severity more accurately than dNBR (65.2% versus 70.2% classification accuracy, respectively) nor indicate improved estimates in the more heterogeneous and low canopy cover landscapes. In addition, we concluded that RdNBR is no more effective than dNBR at the regional, individual, and fine-scale vegetation levels. The results herein support the continued use of both the dNBR and RdNBR methods and the pursuit of developing regional models. In the second study, we compare the transferability of an overall model and those stratified by land cover and ecozone. Our second objective was to test the statistical benefit of incorporating pre- and post-fire information into standard dNBR approaches. We determined that an overall dNBR derived model successfully estimated burn severity for the majority of our study fires, which supports its transferability across multiple western Canadian landscapes. Results indicate that both pre- and post-fire remote sensing information provides a means of further understanding the different post-fire responses as well as showing minimal statistical burn severity estimates across the majority of fires, however, significant improvement was evident for three of the ten study fires.

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