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Using Landsat 8 imagery from before and after the 2015 wildfire season in Glacier National Park, Montana, learners calculate the damage using a Normalized Burn Index, digitize the burn area, and publish to ArcGIS Online.

This activity takes approximately 2 hours

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • The GIS product created by learners at the end of the data lab can be leveraged by the instructor to discuss the role of weather and climate change in wildfire, ecological forest succession, etc.
  • Additional resources for the student would be beneficial, including information on the Glacier National Park wildfires and/or Natural Resource/Forestry Management of forest regeneration and vegetation succession.

About the Science

  • In this lab tutorial, the student uses Landsat 8 imagery to view and qualitatively and quantitatively analyze burn scars in Glacier National Park, Montana before and after the 2015 wildfires.
  • The lab uses digitally available actual data that has been prepared in advance.
  • The activity is detailed but not rigorous. Lab activity is provided in a step-by-step manner.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths: This is a great hands-on way for students to explore remote sensing data. The exercise is organized intuitively and provides quality information about image interpretation and analysis.
    Suggestions: More background information on Landsat and Montana forest fires would make this lesson more robust. The activity is very interesting, but the students are not asked to interpret data or make hypotheses.

About the Pedagogy

  • The lab is separated into two distinct sections - (1) data setup and qualitative assessment and (2) quantitative assessment and final output.
  • There is background information for instructors and learners introducing spectral bands in satellite data and some of the common applications for different bands. Instructions are provided for calculating the burn index using a raster calculator geoprocessing tool.
  • A summary of the learning is provided after each section. An example or ideal output is provided, which can be used to assess student results.
  • It will likely take more than 2 hours to complete this activity, and would likely take even longer at the high school level, so it may need to be done over multiple days.
  • It would be helpful for the instructor to be familiar with ArcGIS or do the activity before students do it.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The lab is of high technical quality. Assuming the software is installed, and the permissions and extensions are correct, the lab is very straightforward.
  • ArcGIS is a licensed software, however this lab can be done using a free trial version of the program.
  • Note that the activity requires downloading materials, and some institutions may not be able to download the data to student computers.

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