Detecting a moorland wildfire scar in the Peak District, UK, using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) from ERS-2 and ENVISAT ASAR

Gail Millin-Chalabi, Julia McMorrow, Clive Agnew

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Wildfires occur annually in UK moorland environments, especially in drought years. They can be severely damaging to the ecosystem when they burn deep into the peat, killing ground-nesting birds and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) was evaluated for detecting the 18 April 2003 Bleaklow wildfire scar (7.4 km2). SAR’s ability to penetrate cloud is advantageous in this inherently overcast area. SAR can provide fire scar boundary information which is otherwise labour intensive to collect in the field using a global positioning system (GPS). This article evaluates the potential of SAR intensity and InSAR coherence to detect a large peat moorland wildfire scar in the Peak District of northern England. A time-series of pre-fire and post-fire ERS-2 and advanced synthetic aperture radar (ASAR) Single Look Complex (SLC) data were pre-processed using SARScape 4.2 to produce georeferenced greyscale images. SAR intensity and InSAR coherence values were analysed against Coordinate Information on the Environment (CORINE) land‐cover classes and precipitation data. SAR intensity detected burnt peat well after a precipitation event and for previous fire events within the CORINE peat bog class. For the 18 April 2003 fire event, intensity increased to 0.84 dB post-fire inside the fire scar for the peat bog class. InSAR coherence peaked post-fire for moors and heathland and natural grassland classes inside the fire scar, but peat bog exposed from previous fires was less responsive. Overall, SAR was found to be effective for detecting the Bleaklow moorland wildfire scar and monitoring wildfire scar persistence in a degraded peat landscape up to 71 days later. Heavy precipitation amplified the SAR fire scar signal, with precipitation after wildfires being typical in UK moorlands. Further work is required to disentangle the effects of fire size, topography, and less generalized land‐cover classes on SAR intensity and InSAR coherence for detecting fire scars in degraded peat moorlands.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-69
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Remote Sensing
Issue number1
Early online date25 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2013


  • wildfire
  • moorland
  • peatland
  • SAR
  • imaging radar
  • remote sensing
  • Peak District National Park


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