Don’t Fuel the Fire: Investigating Fire Susceptibility

Project Team: Idaho Disasters Team
Team Location: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; and Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho

Landsat 8 image from summer 2013 with an outline of the study area in southern Idaho. Fires since 2001 are marked by red thatching. Image Credit: Idaho Disasters Team.

Landsat 8 image from summer 2013 with an outline of the study area in southern Idaho. Fires since 2001 are marked by red thatching. Image Credit: Idaho Disasters Team.

Authors:
Kiersten Newtoff
Katy Bradford
Jeff May
Eric Smith

Mentors/Advisors:
John Schnase (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
Mark Carroll (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
Keith Weber (Idaho State University)

Abstract:
Wildfires play an important role in ecosystem health, with many native plant species dependent on fire to complete their life cycle. Wildfires also burn dead vegetation, which recycles nutrients back into the soil. However, climate change has created favorable conditions in the western United States for larger and more frequent wildfires, which can disrupt ecosystems and human localities. Also, the invasion of cheatgrass (Bromus testorum) across the landscape has drastically increased the duration of the fire season by contributing to the fine fuels load. To prepare for the fire season in Idaho, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) use vegetation moisture measurements from the National Fuel Moisture Database to identify and allocate resources to regions with drier vegetation during the year. To supplement that database, this research analyzed the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and surface temperature (ST) to investigate their ability to identify fire susceptible regions since both of these variables characterize the quality of vegetation, are gathered frequently, and are continuous. The data for each of these variables was obtained from TERRA MODIS from 2001-2014 and examined in shrubland and grassland habitats as determined by the 2011 National Land Cover Dataset. These land classes were analyzed due to the high abundance of fires occurring in these habitats every year. The NDVI and ST in each land class was compared across the state to the number of fires that occurred each year. On a smaller scale, individual burned regions were compared to unburned areas to determine if NDVI or ST had a unique signature in the months leading up to a fire. In addition to this analysis, a data atlas was created for Earth observations with vegetation indices, land cover, and precipitation across the region. The results and data gathered from this study will support Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in resource allocation early in the fire season and planning fuel load reduction activities following the fire season.

 

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