Remote sensing of forest fire severity and vegetation recovery

Joseph D. White, Kevin C. Ryan, Carl C. Key, Steven W. Running

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

284 Scopus citations


Burned forested areas have patterns of varying burn severity as a consequence of various topographic, vegetation, and meteorological factors. These patterns are detected and mapped using satellite data. Other ecological information can be abstracted from satellite data regarding rates of recovery of vegetation foliage and variation of burn severity on different vegetation types. Middle infrared wavelengths are useful for burn severity mapping because the land cover changes associated with burning increase reflectance in this part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Simple stratification of Landsat Thematic Mapper data define varying classes of burn severity because of changes in canopy cover, biomass removal, and soil chemical composition. Reasonable maps of burn severity are produced when the class limits of burn severity reflectance are applied to the entire satellite data. Changes in satellite reflectance over multiple years reveal the dynamics of vegetation and fire severity as low burn areas have lower changes in reflectance relative to high burn areas. This results as a consequence of how much the site was altered due to the burn and how much space is available for vegetation recovery. Analysis of change in reflectance across steppe, riparian, and forested vegetation types indicate that fires potentially increase biomass in steppe areas, while riparian and forested areas are slower to regrow to pre-fire conditions. This satellite-based technology is useful for mapping severely burned areas by exploring the ecological manifestations before and after fire.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-136
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1996


  • Burn severity
  • Classification
  • Glacier National Park
  • Landsat Thematic Mapper
  • Reflectance
  • Vegetation recovery


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