Refined burned-area mapping protocol using Sentinel-2 data increases estimate of 2019 Indonesian burning

Gaveau, David L.A.; Descals, Adrià; Salim, Mohammad A.; Sheil, D.; Sloan, Sean


Many nations are challenged by landscape fires. A confident knowledge of the area and distribution of burning is crucial to monitor these fires and to assess how they might best be reduced. Given the differences that arise using different detection approaches, and the uncertainties surrounding burned-area estimates, their relative merits require evaluation. Here we propose, illustrate, and examine one promising approach for Indonesia where recurring forest and peatland fires have become an international crisis. Drawing on Sentinel-2 satellite time-series analysis, we present and validate new 2019 burned-area estimates for Indonesia. The corresponding burned-area map is available at (Gaveau et al., 2021a). We show that >3.11 million hectares (Mha) burned in 2019. This burned-area extent is double the Landsat-derived official estimate of 1.64 Mha from the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry and 50 % more that the MODIS MCD64A1 burned-area estimate of 2.03 Mha. Though we observed proportionally less peatland burning (31 % vs. 39 % and 40 % for the official and MCD64A1 products, respectively), in absolute terms we still observed a greater area of peatland affected (0.96 Mha) than the official estimate (0.64 Mha). This new burned-area dataset has greater reliability than these alternatives, attaining a user accuracy of 97.9 % (CI: 97.1 %–98.8 %) compared to 95.1 % (CI: 93.5 %–96.7 %) and 76 % (CI: 73.3 %–78.7 %), respectively. It omits fewer burned areas, particularly smaller- (<100 ha) to intermediate-sized (100–1000 ha) burns, attaining a producer accuracy of 75.6 % (CI: 68.3 %–83.0 %) compared to 49.5 % (CI: 42.5 %–56.6 %) and 53.1 % (CI: 45.8 %–60.5 %), respectively. The frequency–area distribution of the Sentinel-2 burn scars follows the apparent fractal-like power law or Pareto pattern often reported in other fire studies, suggesting good detection over several magnitudes of scale. Our relatively accurate estimates have important implications for carbon-emission calculations from forest and peatland fires in Indonesia.