The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team of the U.S. Forest Service goes into the woods as soon as the flames die down. Their job is to help protect reservoirs, watersheds, and infrastructure from floods and erosion in the wake of the fire. And Landsat satellites, built by NASA and operated by the U.S. Geological Survey, help guide those crews to the forested areas needing attention.
Near-infrared wavelengths reflect well from healthy plant leaves back to the Landsat detector, but do not reflect well from burned areas, explained Jeff Masek, Landsat program scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The shortwave infrared band, however, has a distinct spectral signature for burned areas and exposed ground. “The char will show up very clearly in the shortwave.”
“By comparing the ratio of the near- and shortwave-infrared bands in the pre-fire image to the post-fire image, we can estimate the burn severity,” said Carl Albury, a remote sensing specialist at the Forest Service. From those ratios, he creates a rough map of fire severity, called the Burned Area Reflectance Classification (BARC). In the map below, shades of red indicate fire severity, with the darkest areas representing the most intense burning.
- Landsat 8 - OLI
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