Contextualizing the 2019–20 kangaroo island bushfires: Quantifying landscape-level influences on past severity and recovery with landsat and google earth engine

Mitchell T. Bonney, Yuhong He, Soe W. Myint

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The 2019-20 Kangaroo Island bushfires in South Australia burned almost half of the island. To understand how to avoid future severe ‘mega-fires’ and how vegetation may recover from 2019– 2020, we can utilize information from the bulk of historical fires in an area. Landsat time-series of vegetation change provide this opportunity, but there has been little analysis of large numbers of fires to build a landscape-level understanding and quantify drivers in an Australian context. In this study, we built a yearly cloud-free surface reflectance normalized burn ratio (NBR) time-series (1988–2020) using all available summer Landsat images over Kangaroo Island. Data were collected in Google Earth Engine and fitted with LandTrendr. Burn severity and post-fire recovery were quantified for 47 fires, with a new recovery metric facilitating comparison where fire frequency is high. Variables representing the current burn, fire history, vegetation structure, and topography were related to severity and yearly recovery with random forest and bivariate analysis. Results show that the 2019–20 bushfires were the most widespread and severe, followed by 2007–08. Vegetation recovers quickly, with NBR stabilizing ten years post-fire on average. Severity is most influenced by fire frequency, vegetation capacity and land use with more severe burns in nature conservation areas with dense vegetation and a history of frequent fires. Influence on recovery varied with time since fire, with initial (year 1–3) faster recovery observed in areas with less surviving vegetation. Later (year 6–10) recovery was most influenced by a variable representing burn year and further investigation indicates that precipitation increases in later post-fire years likely facilitated faster recovery. The relative abundance of eucalypt woodlands also has a positive influence on recovery in middle and later years. These results provide valuable information to land managers on Kangaroo Island and in similar environments, who should consider adjusting practices to limit future mega-fire risk and potential ecosystem shifts if severe fires become more frequent with climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3942
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalRemote Sensing
Volume12
Issue number23
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Fire history
  • Google Earth Engine
  • LandTrendr
  • Landsat
  • NBR
  • Random forest
  • Time-series

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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