Measuring fire severity using UAV imagery in semi-arid central Queensland, Australia

Phill McKenna, Peter D. Erskine, Alex M. Lechner, Stuart Phinn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Remote-sensing methods for fire severity mapping have traditionally relied on multispectral imagery captured by satellite platforms carrying passive sensors such as Landsat Thematic Mapper/Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus or Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. This article describes the analysis of high spatial resolution Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) imagery to assess fire severity on a 117 ha experimental fire conducted on coal mine rehabilitation in an open woodland environment in semi-arid Central Queensland, Australia. Three band indices, Excess Green Index, Excess Green Index Ratio, and Modified Excess Green Index, were used to derive differenced (d) fire severity maps from UAV data. Fire severity data sets derived from aerial photograph interpretation were used to assess the utility of employing UAV technology to determine fire severity impacts. The dEGI was able to separate high severity, low severity, and unburnt areas with an overall classification accuracy of 58% and Kappa statistic of 0.37; outperforming the dEGIR (overall accuracy 55%, Kappa 0.31) and the dMEGI (overall accuracy 38%, Kappa 0.06). Classification accuracy increased for all indices when canopy shadows were masked, with dEGI improving to an overall accuracy of 68% and 0.48 Kappa. The McNemar’s test indicated that there was no significant difference between the classification accuracies for dEGI and dEGIR (p < 0.05). The test also demonstrated that dMEGI was significantly lower in accuracy compared to dEGI and dEGIR (p < 0.05). We quantified the proportion of burnt area within each severity class and calculated that 32% of the site was burnt at high severity, 34% was burnt at low severity, and 34% of the block was unburnt due to the patchy nature of the fire. We discuss the UAV-specific errors associated with fire severity mapping, and the potential for UAVs to assist land managers to assess the extent and severity of fire and subsequent recovery of burnt ecosystems at local scales (104m2–1 km2).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4244-4264
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Remote Sensing
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

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