Exploring Archetypes of Tropical Fire-Related Forest Disturbances Based on Dense Optical and Radar Satellite Data and Active Fire Alerts

Balling, Johannes; Verbesselt, Jan; Sy, Veronique De; Herold, Martin; Reiche, Johannes


Tropical forest disturbances linked to fire usage cause large amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and environmental damages. Supporting precise GHG estimations and counteracting illegal fire usages in the tropics require timely and thematically detailed large-scale information on fire-related forest disturbances. Multi-sensor optical and radar detection and ranging (radar) remote sensing data combined with active fire alerts shows the potential for a more in-depth characterization of fire-related forest disturbances. We utilized dense optical (Landsat-7, Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2) and radar (Sentinel-1) time series to individually map forest disturbances in the province of Riau (Indonesia) for 2018–2019. We combined the sensor-specific optical and radar forest disturbance maps with daily active fire alerts and classified their temporal relationship (predating, coinciding, postdating) into seven so-called archetypes of fire-related forest disturbances. The archetypes reflect sensor-specific sensitives of optical (e.g., changes in tree foliage) and radar (e.g., changes in tree structure) data to detect varying types of forest disturbances, ranging from either a loss of tree foliage and/or structure predating, coinciding or postdating fires. These can be related to different magnitudes of fire-related forest disturbances and burn severities and can be associated with specific land management practices, such as slash-and-burn agriculture and salvage logging. This can support policy development, local and regional forest management and law enforcement to reduce illegal fire usage in the tropics. Results suggest that a delayed or opposing forest disturbance detection in the optical and radar signal is not only caused by environmental influences or different observation densities but, in some cases, such as fire-related forest disturbances, can be related to their different sensitives to detect changes in tree foliage and structure. Multi-sensor-based forest monitoring approaches should, therefore, not simply combine optical and radar time series on a data level, as it bears the risk of introducing artefacts.