Hislop, S; Haywood, A; Jones, S; Soto-Berelov, M; Skidmore, A; Nguyen, TH (2020). A satellite data driven approach to monitoring and reporting fire disturbance and recovery across boreal and temperate forests. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF APPLIED EARTH OBSERVATION AND GEOINFORMATION, 87, 102034.

The regular and consistent measurements provided by Earth observation satellites can support the monitoring and reporting of forest indicators. Although substantial scientific literature espouses the capabilities of satellites in this area, the techniques are under-utilised in national reporting, where there is a preference for aggregating ad hoc data. In this paper, we posit that satellite information, while perhaps of low accuracy at single time steps or across small areas, can produce trends and patterns which are, in fact, more meaningful at regional and national scales. This is primarily due to data consistency over time and space. To investigate this, we use MODIS and Landsat data to explore trends associated with fire disturbance and recovery across boreal and temperate forests worldwide. Our results found that 181 million ha (9 %) of the study area (2 billion ha of forests) was burned between 2001 and 2018, as detected by MODIS satellites. World Wildlife Fund biomes were used for a detailed analysis across several countries. A significant increasing trend in area burned was observed in Mediterranean forests in Chile (8.9 % yr(-1)), while a significant decreasing trend was found in temperate mixed forests in China (-2.2 % yr(-1)). To explore trends and patterns in fire severity and forest recovery, we used Google Earth Engine to efficiently sample thousands of Landsat images from 1991 onwards. Fire severity, as measured by the change in the normalized burn ratio (NBR), was found to be generally stable over time; however, a slight increasing trend was observed in the Russian taiga. Our analysis of spectral recovery following wildfire indicated that it was largely dependent on location, with some biomes (particularly in the USA) showing signs that spectral recovery rates have shortened over time. This study demonstrates how satellite data and cloud-computing can be harnessed to establish baselines and reveal trends and patterns, and improve monitoring and reporting of forest indicators at national and global scales.