Quantifying biomass consumption and carbon release from the California Rim fire by integrating airborne LiDAR and Landsat OLI data

J Geophys Res Biogeosci. 2017 Feb;122(2):340-353. doi: 10.1002/2015JG003315. Epub 2017 Feb 18.


Quantifying biomass consumption and carbon release is critical to understanding the role of fires in the carbon cycle and air quality. We present a methodology to estimate the biomass consumed and the carbon released by the California Rim fire by integrating postfire airborne LiDAR and multitemporal Landsat Operational Land Imager (OLI) imagery. First, a support vector regression (SVR) model was trained to estimate the aboveground biomass (AGB) from LiDAR-derived metrics over the unburned area. The selected model estimated AGB with an R2 of 0.82 and RMSE of 59.98 Mg/ha. Second, LiDAR-based biomass estimates were extrapolated to the entire area before and after the fire, using Landsat OLI reflectance bands, Normalized Difference Infrared Index, and the elevation derived from LiDAR data. The extrapolation was performed using SVR models that resulted in R2 of 0.73 and 0.79 and RMSE of 87.18 (Mg/ha) and 75.43 (Mg/ha) for the postfire and prefire images, respectively. After removing bias from the AGB extrapolations using a linear relationship between estimated and observed values, we estimated the biomass consumption from postfire LiDAR and prefire Landsat maps to be 6.58 ± 0.03 Tg (1012 g), which translate into 12.06 ± 0.06 Tg CO2e released to the atmosphere, equivalent to the annual emissions of 2.57 million cars.

Keywords: Landsat OLI; biomass consumption; carbon emissions; data integration; lidar; megafires.