Understory fires in Amazon forests alter forest structure, species composition, and the likelihood of future disturbance. The annual extent of fire-damaged forest in Amazonia remains uncertain due to difficulties in separating burning from other types of forest damage in satellite data. We developed a new approach, the Burn Damage and Recovery (BDR) algorithm, to identify fire-related canopy damages using spatial and spectral information from multi-year time series of satellite data. The BDR approach identifies understory fires in intact and logged Amazon forests based on the reduction and recovery of live canopy cover in the years following fire damages and the size and shape of individual understory burn scars. The BDR algorithm was applied to time series of Landsat (1997-2004) and MODIS (2000-2005) data covering one Landsat scene (path/row 226/068) in southern Amazonia and the results were compared to field observations, image-derived burn scars, and independent data on selective logging and deforestation. Landsat resolution was essential for detection of burn scars 500ha) burn scars that accounted for the majority of all fire-damaged forests in this study. Therefore, moderate resolution satellite data may be suitable to provide estimates of the extent of fire-damaged Amazon forest at a regional scale. In the study region, Landsat-based understory fire damages in 1999 (1508km2) were an order of magnitude higher than during the 1997-1998 El Niño event (124km2and 39km2, respectively), suggesting a different link between climate and understory fires than previously reported for other Amazon regions. The results in this study illustrate the potential to address critical questions concerning climate and fire risk in Amazon forests by applying the BDR algorithm over larger areas and longer image time series. © 2011.
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