A System of Mapping Historical Wildfire Events in the Boreal Forest using Polarimetric Radar




Hobart, Geordie

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The boreal forest covers 11% of the earth’s land surface and contains 37 percent of the planet’s terrestrial carbon, which is more than the combined total of both the tropical and the temperate forests [1]. This estimate translates to 703 Pg of carbon with the vast majority contained within the organic soils and peat layers [2-4]. The western-north American boreal forest is a fire ecosystem [2, 5-7] where fires typically occur every 50 to 200 years [8, 9], allowing vast quantities of carbon to re-enter the atmosphere. Understanding and estimating past fire history and the related changes in carbon budget [3, 4, 7, 10] in this biome is of significant importance for climate researchers as they attempt to model for future changes in the planet’s climate [2, 4, 11-14]. Many techniques are available to remotely sense wildfires - using optical, thermal and passive microwave remote sensors - during and immediately after an event - although resolution and availability of images due to cloud cover can make these techniques operationally challenging. Radar remote sensing can provide a complement to these optical and passive microwave techniques, since radar is not affected by cloud cover and solar illumination levels. The Advanced Land Observatory Satellite (ALOS) operates a phased array L band synthetic aperture radar (PALSAR) and Canada’s Radarsat-2 contains a C-Band (SAR) instrument. These radar satellites can be used to detect information about the boreal forest environment including the effects of wildfire. Polarimetric radar is an emerging technology whose full potential is still being actively explored and discovered. More specifically, this research is ground-breaking since very little work has been performed investigating the relationship between polarimetric radar data and historical boreal wildfire events. This area of investigation is a complex marriage of forestry, geospatial information and radar engineering that requires an extensive array of data sets to facilitate analysis. This research has demonstrated that both PALSAR L-Band and Canada’s Radarsat-2 C-Band full polarimetric radars can be used to detect and classify wildfire scars within individual images. The boreal forest is a dynamic ecosystem where both the level of burn severity and the subsequent regeneration of the forest is affected by many factors that can vary widely across small distances. This work contributes to the understanding of the relationships between remotely sensed quad-pol radar signals and both the boreal ecosystem and how wildfire interacts in this environment.



radar, boreal, wildfire, remote sensing, PALSAR, Radarsat, ALOS, polarimetric, forest, carbon