February 2021

There is an increasing need for affordable, effective monitoring of damage and recovery related to wildfires, with the recent incidents in Perth, Australia being only the latest example. Understanding the damage done to land, rivers and other parts of the vital environmental eco-system is critical to decisions made in the months and years thereafter, from monitoring run-offs to soil recovery and vegetation regrowth. With forests covering millions of acres of land worldwide, and bushfires generally impacting large tracts of land, satellite-based imaging services from D-CAT can play a key role in decision making during and after the event.

It has been over a year since wildfires swept across large parts of Australia, causing the destruction of large regions of wildlife habitat, as well as homes and infrastructure. One area that experienced extensive damage during the 2019–2020 wildfires was Kangaroo Island which is located off the coast of South Australia. Over 50% of the island has been estimated to have been burnt due to the fires, with the forests on the island experiencing the worst of the damage. As a result of this, many species that are unique to the island are now on the verge of extinction and the island’s economy, which is largely dependent on agricultural and tourism, has also suffered.

A year on, the forests have shown signs of recovery and are recovering more quickly than predicted. This is apparent from Sentinel-2 satellite imagery that D-CAT have processed which shows the extent of the damage to the forests on the western side of Kangaroo Island. 

Below are true colour images of Kangaroo Island before, during and after the wildfires took place:

                     16/12/19                                           31/12/19                                             30/01/20

A closer inspection of the image taken on 31 December 2019 shows the wildfire, which is highlighted in the false colour image (red/orange):


The most severe damage was inflicted on the forests in the west of the island, as can be seen from our processed image below for the end of January 2020. A colour scale of red to green has been set to illustrate the worst-affected to least affected regions of the western end of the island, which bore the brunt of the damage.

True colour images of Kangaroo Island 1, 3 and 12 months after the wildfires took place are given below. Although more vegetation is apparent after 12 months, it is difficult to judge the recovery from this image alone:

                       30/01/20                                            10/03/20                                                  25/12/20      

Our processing enables the recovery of the vegetation (dark green) to be monitored in a variety of ways including abundance, health and stress, using satellites every few days. Examples below show the difference in vegetation abundance between 3 months after the fire and 12 months.

The chart below shows the health of the forests on Kangaroo Island from 2019 to 2021. The wildfires that occurred in December 2019 and January 2020 have severely damaged the vegetation, causing the amount of biomass to drop significantly below normal levels. The vegetation has not yet returned to previous levels, but has made substantial progress, despite the winter months (June-August):

A recent true colour image of Kangaroo Island taken on the 3 February 2021 shows the effects of the wildfires are still present more than a year afterwards:

Note that this imagery also exposes new wildfires that emerged this year on the north-west of the island, highlighting the importance of continued monitoring for early detection and actioning.

This near-real time data provides monitoring evidence that is of value to many local and regional stakeholders including the fire service, home owners, national park staff, government agencies and insurance companies to name just a few.

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