Characterizing and mapping forest fire fuels using ASTER imagery and gradient modeling

Michael J. Falkowski, Paul E. Gessler, Penelope Morgan, Andrew T. Hudak, Alistair M.S. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


Land managers need cost-effective methods for mapping and characterizing forest fuels quickly and accurately. The launch of satellite sensors with increased spatial resolution may improve the accuracy and reduce the cost of fuels mapping. The objective of this research is to evaluate the accuracy and utility of imagery from the advanced spaceborne thermal emission and reflection radiometer (ASTER) satellite sensor, and gradient modeling, for mapping fuel layers for fire behavior modeling with FARSITE and FLAMMAP. Empirical models, based upon field data and spectral information from an ASTER image, were employed to test the efficacy of ASTER for mapping and characterizing crown closure and crown bulk density. Surface fuel models (National Forest Fire Laboratory (NFFL) 1-13) were mapped using a classification tree based upon three gradient layers; potential vegetation type, cover type, and structural stage. The final surface fuel model layer had an overall accuracy of 0.632 (K HAT = 0.536). Results for the canopy fuel empirical models developed here suggest that vegetation indices incorporating visible wavelengths (i.e. the green red vegetation index (GRVI)) are suitable for predicting crown closure and crown bulk density (r2 = 0.76. and 0.46, respectively).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-146
Number of pages18
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Oct 10 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported in part by funds provided by the Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture. The authors also acknowledge partial funding for this work from the following additional sources: the NASA Synergy program, the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory (RJVA-11222048-140), and a grant (NS-7327) from NASA's Earth Science Applications Division as part of the Food and Fiber Applications of Remote Sensing (FFARS) program managed by the John C. Stennis Space Center.


  • Crown bulk density
  • Crown closure
  • Forest fire
  • Fuel model
  • Fuels
  • Gradient modeling
  • Remote sensing


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