Wetlands Ecology and Management

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 253–268

Mapping the annual area burned in the wetlands of the Okavango panhandle using a hierarchical classification approach

Original Paper


This paper documents the methodology developed to identify burned areas accurately, and to quantify the spatial extent of the areas burned, in the wetlands of Botswana’s Okavango panhandle in 2001. Physical identification of burned areas in marshy wetlands is extremely difficult. Burned areas are short-lived, limiting opportunities for ground-based measurement, which is often further hampered by extreme inaccessibility, and the unpredictable nature of the location and timing of burning. Given these challenges, satellite imagery has the potential to provide an excellent alternative for such analyses. However, burned areas can be spectrally confused with non-vegetated wetland areas such as open water and muddy flats, particularly when relying predominantly on the near-infrared band. This study addresses these constraints by using a hierarchical classification of Landsat 7 ETM+ imagery to remove wet and well-vegetated areas prior to burned-area identification, and by using the thermal band data to improve the separation between wet and burned areas. These techniques resulted in good designation of burned areas, a reduction in the misclassification of unburned areas, and a refinement of the spatial distribution of areas burned in 2001. The approach should prove useful to practitioners seeking to manage fire in wetlands.


Botswana· Burned areas· Fire scars· Landsat· Marshy wetlands· Okavango· Remote sensing· Thermal band 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Land Use and Environmental Change InstituteUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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