A new paper by Sean Parks, a research ecologist with the Rocky Mountain Research Station and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, and collaborators describes new maps that can help identify areas where high-severity fire is most likely to occur. Parks, who is the paper’s lead author, says much of the research comes down to pixels—the tiny dots on a computer screen or digital device that together make up an image.
"The world is made of pixels to me," Parks says, "with each pixel representing 900 square meters. Any given fire has thousands to hundreds of thousands of pixels associated with it, depending on the size of the fire. We look at how past fires burned and how severe the burn was in each pixel, then we use that data to predict how areas with similar conditions are likely to burn."
Using digital satellite images of fires since 1984, along with a statistical analysis of key drivers of high-severity fire (topography, climate, fire weather, and fuel), the pixels are assigned different colors that correspond to the probability of high-severity fire. Then the pixels are made into ecoregional maps. "When a land manager has that data," Parks says, "they can see the areas where the potential for high-severity fire is greatest."