Smith, AMS, Drake, NA, Wooster, MJ, Hudak, AT, Holden, ZA, Gibbons, CJ (2007). Production of Landsat ETM plus reference imagery of burned areas within Southern African savannahs: comparison of methods and application to MODIS. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF REMOTE SENSING, 28(12), 2753-2775.
Accurate production of regional burned area maps are necessary to reduce uncertainty in emission estimates from African savannah fires. Numerous methods have been developed that map burned and unburned surfaces. These methods are typically applied to coarse spatial resolution (1 km) data to produce regional estimates of the area burned, while higher spatial resolution (< 30 m) data are used to assess their accuracy with little regard to the accuracy of the higher spatial resolution reference data. In this study we aimed to investigate whether Landsat Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM+)- derived reference imagery can be more accurately produced using such spectrally informed methods. The efficacy of several spectral index methods to discriminate between burned and unburned surfaces over a series of spatial scales (ground, IKONOS, Landsat ETM+ and data from the MOderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer, MODIS) were evaluated. The optimal Landsat ETM+ reference image of burned area was achieved using a charcoal fraction map derived by linear spectral unmixing (k=1.00, a=99.5%), where pixels were defined as burnt if the charcoal fraction per pixel exceeded 50%. Comparison of coincident Landsat ETM+ and IKONOS burned area maps of a neighbouring region in Mongu (Zambia) indicated that the charcoal fraction map method overestimated the area burned by 1.6%. This method was, however, unstable, with the optimal fixed threshold occurring at > 65% at the MODIS scale, presumably because of the decrease in signal- to- noise ratio as compared to the Landsat scale. At the MODIS scale the Mid- Infrared Bispectral Index (MIRBI) using a fixed threshold of > 1.75 was determined to be the optimal regional burned area mapping index (slope=0.99, r(2) = 0.95, SE=61.40, y=Landsat burned area, x=MODIS burned area). Application of MIRBI to the entire MODIS temporal series measured the burned area as 10 267 km(2) during the 2001 fire season. The char fraction map and the MIRBI methodologies, which both produced reasonable burned area maps within southern African savannah environments, should also be evaluated in woodland and forested environments.