Forest ThreatNet

Volume 1, Issue 1 - Fall 2007

NASA Aids with Threat Detection

Satellite imagery provides a fresh look at forest science


Partnerships leverage expertise and resources to help tackle emerging forest threats. Highlighted in this issue are EFETAC’s joint efforts with the John C. Stennis Space Center and the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center.

NASA logoAn early warning system to detect forest threats is among EFETAC’s priorities. Enter NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, an applied research and technology dynamo. EFETAC was attracted to Stennis’ applied research and technology project office which was created to bridge the gap between Earth science research and data use to help partner agencies make better informed decisions. 

The EFETAC/Stennis partnership goal is to develop an integrated, national early warning system to detect changes in forest and wildland conditions that are associated with environmental stressors or disturbance. System development requires interdisciplinary expertise–foresters, landscape ecologists, computer scientists, engineers, image processors, statisticians, geographers, and mathematicians–to bring it all together. Additional partners from the Institute for Technology Development, Science Systems & Applications, Inc. (SSAI), Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), and Lockheed Martin have also joined the team. 

Picture an early warning system that highlights unexpected changes in vegetation using satellite imagery to examine the lower 48 United States at a 500-meter NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite imagery will be a key component of the early warning system, detecting changes at various scales and timeframes. Remote sensing imagery in this map shows significant vegetation changes.resolution every eight days. 

The system is envisioned to be a multi-source, multi-scale tool that provides broad area, high frequency reconnaissance; detailed, location-specific analysis using higher resolution imagery and ground data; and predictive modeling of existing and potential environmental threats. 

Several objectives must be met for the system to be successful. First, the system must detect meaningful changes in plant vigor and environmental conditions to enable monitoring of disturbance events or stress. Second, it must balance the spatial resolution needed to detect changes with practical limitations imposed by nation-wide coverage. Third, it must be updated relatively frequently and in near real-time in order to provide timely detections. Finally, the system must be able to process and deliver its results efficiently and affordably. 

EFETAC, Stennis, and UNC Asheville’s National Enviromental Modeling and Analysis Center and other partners are planning a phased approach to development and implementation of the early warning system–a unique national asset not currently available. Development of the early warning system is in its early stages, but preliminary results are promising. Much of the system utilizes existing technology. The final system will monitor all lands, not just forests, making the information generated useful to numerous Federal, State, and local land managers.

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