Satellite Mapping of Forest Disturbances Helps When Field Efforts Are Restricted


HiForm tornado track mapA large number of tornadoes struck the Southeast in the spring of 2020. Ordinarily, aerial surveillance and field crews would assess forest damage after windstorms and other disturbances, but the COVID-19 pandemic has limited those operations. USDA Forest Service scientists are showing that, with recent technological advances, disturbance impacts can nonetheless be rapidly mapped at surprisingly high resolution and shared with eastern forest managers. “After a tornado passes through a forest, managers need a way to assess impacts as soon as possible. Detailed disturbance maps are crucial, because they can direct forest managers to heavily impacted areas quickly,” says Steve Norman, a research ecologist with the Southern Research Station. “These maps also give managers insights into the dynamics of their forests for longer-term monitoring and planning.” While satellite imagery has been successfully used for forest disturbance monitoring for decades, past technology has usually been limited by coarse resolution, infrequent satellite flyovers, high costs, or the need for specialized analysts. Researchers at the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center (EFETAC) developed a workflow using newly available satellites and cloud computing to reveal likely forest impacts across large areas at high resolution. The result has been the High-Resolution Forest Mapping, or HiForm, project – a cooperative effort between EFETAC scientists and the National Environmental Monitoring and Analysis Center (NEMAC) at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: This HiForm forest change map was produced after tornadoes swept through Mississippi in April. The colors denote a relative scale of severity of likely forest disturbance. USFS image.


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