Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version



Remote Sens. 2020, 12, 2168; doi:10.3390/rs12132168


© 2020 by the authors.


Uncertainty in satellite-derived burned area estimates are especially high in grassland systems, which are some of the most frequently burned ecosystems in the world. In this study, we compare differences in predicted burned area estimates for a region with the highest fire activity in North America, the Flint Hills of Kansas, USA, using the moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) MCD64A1 burned area product and a customization of the MODIS MCD64A1 product using a major ground-truthing effort by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE-MODIS customization). Local-scale ground-truthing and the KDHE-MODIS product suggests MODIS burned area estimates under predicted fire occurrence by 28% over a 19-year period in the Flint Hills ecoregion. Between 2001 and 2019, MODIS product indicated <1 million acres burned on average, which was far below the KDHE-MODIS customization (mean = 2.6 million acres). MODIS also showed that <1% of the Flint Hills burned 5 times from 2001–2019 (2001, 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2013), whereas KDHE-MODIS customization showed this never happened in any single year. KDHE-MODIS also captured some areas of the Flint Hills that burned every year (19 times out of 19 years), which is well-known with field inventory data, whereas the maximum fire occurrence in MODIS was 14 times in 19 years. Finally, MODIS never captured 8% burned area for any given year in the Flint Hills, even in years when fire activity was highest (2008, 2009, 2011, 2014). Based on these results, coupling MODIS burned area computations with local scale ground-truth efforts has the potential to significantly improve fire occurrence estimates and reduce uncertainty in other grassland and savanna regions.