Fire severity: Mapping past fires and predicting the future
Area burned by wildland fire has been increasing since the mid-1980s across much of the US. But the effects of fire on vegetation and soil – what we call burn severity or fire severity – is maybe the more important measure, ecologically speaking. Stand-replacing, or high-severity fire, for example, is more likely than low-severity fire to negatively impact ecosystems by increasing post-fire erosion potential, catalyzing conversions from forest to non-forest, and reducing carbon stocks. While high-severity fire has its place in the natural cycles of some ecosystems, it also can pose societal problems by jeopardizing human safety and infrastructure. In this webinar, we will briefly describe new approaches to mapping the severity of past fires using satellite imagery and cloud-based computing. The main focus of this webinar, however, will highlight recent advancements in modeling and predictive mapping of near-future burn severity; the mapped products predict the probability of high-severity fire, if a fire were to occur. Maps characterizing fire severity, whether they characterize past fires or represent predictions of the near-future, provide important information for managers and scientists who are tasked with managing fuel and wildland fire.