Modeling Biomass Consumption
Variability In Forest Fires

Project Summary

Under the NASA New Investigator Program in Earth Science (NASA-NIP), Dr. French and her assistants have worked towards better quantification of the variability in the amount of biomass consumed during forest fires for the purpose of estimating carbon emissions during biomass burning.

Technical Objectives
Technical Approach
Technical Outcomes
Educational Component

 

Overview

For the technical portion of this project, Landsat multi-spectral images are used to determine how much of the landscape is affected by fires of low, moderate, or severe consumption level within 13 forested ecoregions. Field-based measurements of fuel consumption are used to associate the remote sensing-based map of consumption level to the amount of fuel consumed (kg/m2). Fuel consumption in forested ecoregions of western and northern North America where forest fires are prevalent is the region of interest. Because data available for the boreal and temperate study regions are not the same, different approaches are used in Alaska, Canada, and the western lower-48 study regions. Fuel consumption mapping in Alaska shows a small percentage of the land burns in severe fires, but since this represents a substantial amount of the total carbon emissions, increases in severe fire have the potential to result in more extreme emissions events. Results of a model-based assessment of consumption in western lower-48 forested regions provides a quantitative review of the impact of fire on carbon emissions not previously available. Analysis of data provided by the Canadian Forest Service shows high levels of variability in fuel consumption in boreal North America and an uncertainty not yet quantified related to burning of boreal peatlands.

 

For the educational component of this project interns were hired to learn and help with image data processing, field data collection, and science data analysis.  In addition, the NASA project help develop and build the internship program now in place at the Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI).

Details on the technical data analyses and results for each region (Alaska, Canada, Lower 48) and the internship program can be found on this web site and in the annual reports for the project.


Technical Objectives

For this NASA-funded research project, biomass consumption levels in forested regions of northern and western North America were assessed with a goal of learning how variable consumption can be within a given ecoregion. The result is a more complete view of the amount of biomass consumed during burning so that estimates of carbon emissions can be better quantified.


Technical Approach

Fuel consumption for 13 Ecoregions of North America is the focus.  The different Ecoregions are shown in the map to the left. We use measured or modeled fuel consumption estimates, in kg-m-2, combined with the spatial distribution of fire severity, which provides a measure of the amount of landscape burned at various fuel consumption levels. Due to differing types of data available for the three geopolitical regions, three different approaches are used for Alaska, Canada, and the Lower-48.

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Technical Outcomes

Results for the three regions of study are detailed on the Alaska, Lower 48 and Canada web pages.  Annual reports are provided on the Outcomes page.  A list of presentations and publications resulting from this project can be found on the Publications page.  Highlights of these results include:



    • Obtained and processed Landsat imagery and Landsat-derived severity maps for assessing remote sensing methods of deriving severity.

    • Investigated the utility of MODIS data and products for fire mapping and monitoring, specifically fire progression, to relate fire timing to severity.

    • Participated in field data collection of fuel consumption in recent burn areas in Alaska.

    • Attended and lead discussion at several meetings of collaborators to work on development of consistent methods of assessing fire severity, fuel consumption, and fire emissions.

    • Worked with Canadian collaborators to integrate research coming from the Canadian Forest Service into this NASA NIP project.

    • Presented papers and posters related to NIP project work.

    • Authored or contributed to six published journal articles including an award-winning paper on the impacts of climate change in Boreal regions.

    • Served as guest editor (right) on a special issue of the International Journal of Wildland Fire on “Remote Sensing of Burn Severity in Boreal North America"


Educational Component

The education portion of the NASA-NIP grant project included a program to employ interns to work on the project, and to help promote and grow a summer internship program within the research institute. The project employed three interns during its first year, two of which worked nearly full-time on the project while one contributed only a small amount of her time to the NASA-NIP project. Three interns worked on the project during its second year, and four have been involved during its final year.

The summer internship program is a program within the Michigan Tech Research Institute to encourage young scientists and engineers in learning about real-world research. Through the program, MTRI recruits and hires interns for a 3 to 4-month period in the summer to work full time with a sponsor. Under the NASA-NIP grant, interns will be funded to complete tasks relevant to the technical objectives of the project. In addition, internship requirements and procedures were developed to enhance and formalize this program within the Institute for all current and future participants.  Details of the formal internship process and structure as developed under the NASA NIP project can be found on the Interns page.




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