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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Assessing historical landscape patterns following fire in the Canadian boreal forest using remote sensing data San Miguel Sánchez, Ignacio


Understanding pre-industrial fire patterns, in particular unburned or partially burned vegetation remnants, has become a research and forest management priority in Canada and beyond. To achieve these goals, it is crucial to better understand the variability of spatial fire patterns, as well as the relative importance of the environmental controls at broad scales. Open-source and freely available Landsat data has great potential to capture fire patterns in a repeatable and automated way across large and remote areas. However, critical challenges associated to (1) the reliance on very expensive field plot data for calibration/validation of the mortality maps; and (2) the lack of consistent spatial language and methods to analyze the spatial patterns, hindered the applicability of these methods across large areas and the comparability of the results obtained. The objective of this dissertation is to develop, test and demonstrate the value of a novel framework to help improve our understanding of historical spatial fire patterns across the Canadian boreal forest. The research advances our understanding of the variability and causality of spatial fire patterns across large remote boreal regions addressing both scientific and management communities. Major contributions from this research include: • Re-imagining how to capture and describe spatial fire patterns across large and remote areas of the boreal forest through an innovative and cost-effective framework that combines Landsat satellite data, polygons of mortality from aerial photo-interpretation and a consistent spatial language and metrics to capture key fire characteristics. • A demonstration of this new framework and how it can be extrapolated to other landscapes beyond the original formulation area. In particular, this research produced a fire pattern database comprising 507 new fires and 2.5 Mha – far in excess of any other study to date for the same area. • An examination of how the data generated could be used in combination with new tools and methods to reveal patterns of fire mortality not previously possible including (1) characterization and assessment of differences in fire pattern signatures between pre-defined ecological zonations, and (2) analysis of the interactions between spatial fire patterns and main biotic and abiotic environmental controls.

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