Evaluation of algorithms for fire detection and mapping across North America from satellite

Zhanqing Li, R. Fraser, J. Jin, A. A. Abuelgasim, I. Csiszar, P. Gong, R. Pu, W. Hao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents an evaluation of advanced very high resolution radiometer (AVHRR)-based remote sensing algorithms for detecting active vegetation fires [Li et al., 2000a] and mapping burned areas [Fraser et al., 2000] throughout North America. The procedures were originally designed for application in Canada with AVHRR data aboard the NOAA 14 satellite. They were tested here with both NOAA 11 and NOAA 14 covering the period 1989-2000. It was found that the active fire detection algorithm performs well with low commission and omission error rates over forested regions in the absence of cloud cover. Moderate errors were found over semi-arid areas covered by thin clouds, as well as along rivers and around lakes observed from sun-glint angles. A modification to a fire algorithm threshold and the addition of a new test can significantly improve the detection accuracy. Burned areas mapped by satellite were compared against extensive fire polygon data acquired by U.S. forest agencies in five western states. The satellite-based mapping matches nearly 90% of total forested burned area, with the difference being mainly attributable to omission of some nonburned islands and patches within the fire polygons. In addition, it maps a significant area of burning outside the fire polygons that appear to be true fires. The 10% omission error was found to be caused mainly by three factors: lack or insufficient number of active fires, partial burning, and vegetation recovery after early season burning. In addition to total area, the location and shapes of burned scars are consistent with the ground-based maps. Overall, the two algorithms are competent for detecting and mapping forest fires in North America north of Mexico with minor modifications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)ACL 20-1 ACL 20-14
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 27 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomass burning
  • Carbon budget
  • Climate change
  • Forest fire
  • Remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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