Feasibility of Burned Area Mapping Based on ICESAT-2 Photon Counting Data Academic Article uri icon


  • Accurately mapping burned areas is crucial for the analysis of carbon emissions and wildfire risk as well as understanding the effects of climate change on forest structure. Burned areas have predominantly been mapped using optical remote sensing images. However, the structural changes due to fire also offer opportunities for mapping burned areas using three-dimensional (3D) datasets such as Light detection and ranging (LiDAR). This study focuses on the feasibility of using photon counting LiDAR data from National Aeronautics and Space Administrations (NASA) Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat2) mission to differentiate vegetation structure in burned and unburned areas and ultimately classify burned areas along mapped ground tracks. The ICESat2 mission (launched in September 2018) provides datasets such as geolocated photon data (ATL03), which comprises precise latitude, longitude and elevation of each point where a photon interacts with land surface, and derivative products such as the Land Water Vegetation Elevation product (ATL08), which comprises estimated terrain and canopy height information. For analysis, 24 metrics such as the average, median and standard deviation of canopy height were derived from ATL08 data over forests burned by recent fires in 2018 in northern California and western New Mexico. A reference burn map was derived from Sentinel2 images based on the differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR) index. A landcover map based on Sentinel2 images was employed to remove non-forest classes. Landsat 8 based dNBR image and landcover map were also used for comparison. Next, ICESat2 data of forest samples were classified into burned and unburned ATL08 100-m segments by both Random Forest classification and logistic regression. Both Sentinel2 derived and Landsat 8 derived ATL08 samples got high classification accuracy, 83% versus 76%. Moreover, the resulting classification accuracy by Random Forest and logistic regression reached 83% and 74%, respectively. Among the 24 ICESat2 metrics, apparent surface reflectance and the number of canopy photons were the most important. Furthermore, burn severity of each ATL08 segment was also estimated with Random Forest regression. R2 of predicted burn severity to observed dNBR is 0.61 with significant linear relationship and moderate correlation (r = 0.78). Overall, the reasonably high accuracies achieved in this study demonstrate the feasibility of employing ICESat2 data in burned forest classification, opening avenues for improved estimation of burned biomass and carbon emissions from a 3D perspective.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 1.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Liu, M., Popescu, S. C., & Malambo, L.

citation count

  • 18

complete list of authors

  • Liu, Meng||Popescu, Sorin C||Malambo, Lonesome

publication date

  • December 2020