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Mapping Wildfire Burn Severity in Southern California


Activity Description:

This activity, created by Christine Lewis of California State University, Chico, uses burn severity data from the 2003 "Old Fire" wildfire in the San Bernardino Mountains to underscore the role that remote sensing can play in determining changes in landscapes after a fire. Used by forest service personnel after a fire, remote sensing and burn severity maps help evaluate the potential hazards created by soil changes and vegetation mortality – such as landslides and flooding. The exercise is divided into two parts: in part one, students will use Landsat Images in the GIS software ArcGIS 10 to understand the basic properties of a digital remotely-sense image, explore the Landsat Images, and process images from DN to Radiance to Reflectance; and in part two, students create their own ArcMap project which should connect to an existing geodatabase and change layer symbology, in addition to image processing and image analysis and calculating burn severity acres.

Both parts take two-to-three weeks to complete, with completion of the entire activity taking four-to-six weeks. In order to complete the exercise, students must have access to ArcGIS 10 with Spatial Analyst Extension and Service Pack 4, as well as access to the Internet. The exercise–and associated student handouts–can be downloaded in Word and/or PDF format.

Upon completion of the activity, students should be able to: use the USGS Global Visualization Viewer (GloVIS) to explore, select, and review satellite images; understand the significance of a Landsat MTL file; understand the difference between true color and false color images; and summarize the results of analysis in a flow chart and a report.

Activity Contents:

The attached files associated with this activity exist in a variety of formats, including .doc, .docx, and .pdf.

Below is a list of the files contained in the .zip attachment.


  • Lewis_Webpage_Link_Final (1).doc 1.4MB
  • Lewis_SH_pt2_Arc_10_2_Sept2013.pdf 3.7MB
  • Lewis_SH_pt2_Arc_10_2_Sept2013.docx 3.5MB
  • Lewis_SH_pt1_Arc_10_2_Sept2013.pdf 5.3MB
  • Lewis_SH_pt2_Arc_10_2_Sept2013.docx 5.7MB
Archived with ATE Central
Associated File
ATE Area
GEM Subject
Date Issued 2012
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Education Level
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