Radar Multi-Temporal and Multi-Sensor Approach to Characterise Peat Moorland Burn Scars and Assess Burn Scar Persistence in the Landscape

Student thesis: Phd


Peat moorlands represent a nationally significant carbon store. Wildfires in peat moorlands release CO2 into the atmosphere, reducing the carbon store and burn into the seed bank preventing vegetation recovery. Burned areas of bare peat remain, known as 'burn scars' which are eroded by freeze thaw and desiccation, then weathered by precipitation and wind to cause discolouration of the water supply. A technique for the systematic monitoring of peat moorland burn scars is essential for informing land management and moorland restoration. Satellite data enables peat moorland burn scars to be monitored at the landscape scale for operational services e.g. European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS). However, in the UK cloud is highly problematic for optical satellites and thermal data provides only a short window of opportunity for active fire detection. This thesis provides a unique line of enquiry by exploring the potential of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) intensity and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) coherence for burn scar characterisation and persistence, using a multi-temporal and multi-sensor approach for degraded peat moorland. The Peak District National Park (PDNP) was selected because it is a marginal moorland environment, which experiences high rates of peat erosion and will experience more wildfires, based on future projections of increased temperature, due to global warming.Initial SAR intensity results for the Bleaklow 2003 burn scar showed a clear post-fire increase of 7 dB for burned peat bog when acquired under wet conditions. Post-fire, dry - wet InSAR pairs were characterised by vegetation removal caused by combustion within the burn scar area, whereas wet - wet InSAR pairs characterised the burn scar, but also degraded peat moorland caused by previous wildfires blurring the new burn scar perimeter. Intensity differed significantly with slope for the PDNP 2003 wildfires, reducing the effectiveness of the technique for characterising burn scars on slopes facing away from the sensor, although these wildfires showed no significant difference on coherence for the inland bare ground class. When using coherence as a burn scar discriminator, this research found that it is essential to acquire InSAR pairs immediately post-fire with B⊥ < 550 m. Using a combination of intensity and coherence data a multi-difference colour composite was produced and an ISODATA classification applied. Results were reclassified to produce a burned area map with an overall map accuracy of 94% and Kappa Coefficient of 0.69 covering the Bleaklow and Kinder 2003 burn scars. Burn scars > 6 km2 provided a persistently higher burned area intensity signal for up to six months after the wildfire but only 2 - 3 months for coherence. The smaller Edale burn scar (0.10 km2) was characterised by 2 - 3 dB greater intensity for the burned area over a year after the wildfire. The Edale 2008 case study showed that L-band PALSAR data is less sensitive to characterising peat moorland burn scars compared to C-band data. This study therefore strongly recommends C-band data for peat moorland burn scar characterisation and monitoring. Future research will explore the new C-band Sentinel-1 data which offers improved spatial resolution and repeat-pass time.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJ.M. McMorrow (Supervisor) & Clive Agnew (Supervisor)


  • Peat
  • Satellites
  • Mapping
  • Monitoring
  • Landscape
  • Burn Scars
  • Wildfires
  • InSAR Coherence
  • SAR Intensity
  • Radar
  • Moorland
  • Peak District National Park

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