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Vegetation, topography and daily weather influenced burn severity in central Idaho and western Montana forests

Posted date: October 06, 2015
Publication Year: 
2015
Authors: Birch, Donovan S.; Morgan, Penelope; Kolden, Crystal A.; Abatzoglou, John T.; Dillon, Gregory K.; Hudak, Andrew T.; Smith, Alistair M. S.
Publication Series: 
Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Source: Ecosphere. 6(1): Article 17.

Abstract

Burn severity as inferred from satellite-derived differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR) is useful for evaluating fire impacts on ecosystems but the environmental controls on burn severity across large forest fires are both poorly understood and likely to be different than those influencing fire extent. We related dNBR to environmental variables including vegetation, topography, fire danger indices, and daily weather for daily areas burned on 42 large forest fires in central Idaho and western Montana. The 353 fire days we analyzed burned 111,200 ha as part of large fires in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2011. We expected that local "bottom-up" variables like topography and vegetation would influence burn severity, but that our use of daily dNBR and weather data would uncover stronger relationships between the two than previous studies have shown. We found that percent existing vegetation cover had the largest influence on burn severity, while weather variables like fine fuel moisture, relative humidity, and wind speed were also influential but somewhat less important. Our results could reflect contrasting scales of predictor variables, as many topography and vegetation variables #30-m spatial resolution# accounted for more of the variability in burn severity #also 30-m spatial resolution# than did fire danger indices and many daily weather variables #4-km spatial resolution#. However, we posit that, in contrast to the strong influence of climate and weather on fire extent, "bottom-up" factors such as topography and vegetation have the most influence on burn severity. While climate and weather certainly interact with the landscape to affect burn severity, pre-fire vegetation conditions due to prior disturbance and management strongly affect vegetation response even when large areas burn quickly.

Citation

Birch, Donovan S.; Morgan, Penelope; Kolden, Crystal A.; Abatzoglou, John T.; Dillon, Gregory K.; Hudak, Andrew T.; Smith, Alistair M. S. 2015. Vegetation, topography and daily weather influenced burn severity in central Idaho and western Montana forests. Ecosphere. 6(1): Article 17.