Canadian Forest Service Publications

Area burned adjustments to historical wildland fires in Canada. 2021. Skakun, R.; Whitman, E.; Little, J.M.; Parisien, M.-A. Environmental Research Letters 16(6):064014.

Year: 2021

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 40757

Language: English

Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/abfb2c

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Prior to delineation of fire perimeters from airborne and satellite imagery, fire management agencies in Canada employed conventional methods to map area burned based on sketch mapping, digitization from a global positioning system unit, and point buffering from geographic coordinates. These techniques usually provide a less precise representation of a wildland fire’s size and shape than those derived from image data. The aim of this study is to assess the discrepancy in fire size from these techniques that contribute to uncertainty in area burned. We paired independently generated fire perimeters derived from Landsat satellite imagery with conventional perimeters (n = 2792; mean area difference per fire = 40.1%), and developed a set of prediction models to estimate a Landsat area burned from conventional perimeters by considering the mapping source, method, agency, and time period. A two-fold cross validation predicting the logarithm of area burned from the models, indicated an R2 = 0.95 (MAE = 0.10 ha; RMSE = 0.19 ha). From this, we created an adjusted area burned time series from 1950 to 2018 using the model-predicted estimates from conventional perimeters (75% of agency-reported area) in combination with unchanged estimates from agency perimeters derived from airborne and satellite imagery (13% of fires). The predicted estimates reduced the size of individual fires over 2000 ha on average in some years, contributing to an annual average reduction of approximately 11% of the area burned reported in the national agency fire database. By retrospectively applying a robust statistical adjustment to the fire size data, the historical overestimation in annual area burned—up to 1.4 Mha in a single year—could be substantially minimized.