Spatial evaluation of Indonesia's 2015 fire-affected area and estimated carbon emissions using Sentinel-1

A new article by the Fire_cci team has been published in Global Change Biology (DOI 10.1111/gcb.13841)

Fires raged once again across Indonesia in the latter half of 2015, creating a state of emergency due to poisonous smoke and haze across Southeast Asia as well as incurring great financial costs to the government. A strong El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) led to drought in many parts of Indonesia, resulting in elevated fire occurrence comparable with the previous catastrophic event in 1997/1998. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data promise to provide improved detection of land use and land cover changes in the tropics as compared to methodologies dependent upon cloud- and haze-free images. This study presents the first spatially explicit estimates of burned area across Sumatra, Kalimantan, and West Papua based on high-resolution Sentinel-1A SAR imagery. Here, we show that 4,604,569 hectares (ha) were burned during the 2015 fire season (overall accuracy 84%), and compare this with other existing operational burned area products (MCD64, GFED4.0, GFED4.1s). Intersection of burned area with fine-scale land cover and peat layer maps indicates that 0.89 gigatons carbon dioxide equivalents (Gt CO2e) were released through the fire event. This result is compared to other estimates based on nonspatially explicit thermal anomaly measurements or atmospheric monitoring. Using freely available SAR C-band data from the Sentinel mission, we argue that the presented methodology is able to quickly and precisely detect burned areas, supporting improvement in fire control management as well as enhancing accuracy of emissions estimation.