Burned area mapping using Sentinel-1 SAR time series

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Burned area mapping using Sentinel-1 SAR time series

Burned area mapping using Sentinel-1 SAR time series

The ESA Fire CCI project focuses on the development of long time series of burned area constructed from multi sensor satellite data. The ESA Fire CCI project is part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) of the European Space Agency (ESA). CCI is part of the European contribution to the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) program. Fire disturbance is one of the Essential Climate Variables (ECV) included in the ESA CCI program. As a project partner, RSS produced the first spatially explicit estimates of burned area for the dry season of 2015 across Sumatra, Kalimantan, and West Papua based on high-resolution Sentinel-1A SAR imagery.

Burned area mapping using SAR

Fires raged once again across Indonesia in the latter half of 2015, creating a state of emergency due to poisonous smoke and haze across Southeast Asia as well as incurring great financial costs to the government. A strong El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) led to drought in many parts of Indonesia, resulting in elevated fire occurrence comparable with the previous catastrophic event in 1997/98.

The European Space Agency (ESA) Sentinel-1 mission is a two satellite constellation, each carrying a C-band SAR sensor onboard which offers high spatial resolution data (10 m). Sentinel-1A was launched April 2014, followed by Sentinel-1B two years later. SAR data have the benefit of being daylight and weather independent, capable of penetrating thick smoke and haze, which enables timely detection of burned areas and thus reducing confounding factors from processes such as rapid tropical vegetation regrowth.


  • Development of an automated algorithm to map burned areas using Sentinel-1 imagery
  • Production of an burned area map for Indonesia for the year 2015
  • Calculation of potential GHG emissions based on burned area and land cover

Cloud-based services

A cloud-based service for the analysis of historical fires and the automized detection of active fires is developed. Planning long-term measures in fire management to reduce emissions requires a detailed spatio-temporal recording of the fire history of the past 20 years. Satellite remote sensing allows the acquisition of measurable parameters such as historical fire frequency and fire interval per unit area. This fire baseline also allows for improved estimation of historical fire-related emissions. Only on the basis of such a "fire baseline" spatially adjusted fire management measures can be planned. A fire baseline is also the prerequisite to make actual emission reductions through fire management measurable and certified (for example, within the framework of the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)) and thus to generate compensable shares in carbon trading.

Potential of application

The methodology developed in this research project can be fully automated to run in a cloud computing environment. This will allow timely detection of burned areas in the high spatial resolution of the Sentinel-1 satellite. The main advantage of SAR methodology is to be independent of smoke, haze and cloud coverage. The Sentinel-1 burned area product also offers much finer spatial resolution (10m) than those from MODIS or GFED (500 m resolution). Timely burned area detection will allow fire managers to better identify the origin of fire spread and to plan how to combat long lasting fires.

Research partners

• Universidad de Alcalá (Spain), University of the Basque Country (Spain), University of Leicester (United Kingdom), University College London (United Kingdom), School of Agriculture, University of Lisbon (Portugal), Brockmann Consult GmbH (Germany), Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (Germany), Research Institute for Development (France), Climate and Environmental Sciences Laboratory (France), Stichting VU-VUmc (Netherlands)

Funding source

European Space Agency (ESA)