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Journal Article

An automated approach to map the history of forest disturbance from insect mortality and harvest with landsat time-series data


Carvalhais,  Nuno
Model-Data Integration, Dr. Nuno Carvalhais, Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Neigh, C. S., Bolton, D. K., Diabate, M., Williams, J. J., & Carvalhais, N. (2014). An automated approach to map the history of forest disturbance from insect mortality and harvest with landsat time-series data. Remote Sensing, 6(4), 2782-2808. doi:10.3390/rs6042782.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0018-56FD-5
Forests contain a majority of the aboveground carbon (C) found in ecosystems, and understanding biomass lost from disturbance is essential to improve our C-cycle knowledge. Our study region in the Wisconsin and Minnesota Laurentian Forest had a strong decline in Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) from 1982 to 2007, observed with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) series of Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR). To understand the potential role of disturbances in the terrestrial C-cycle, we developed an algorithm to map forest disturbances from either harvest or insect outbreak for Landsat time-series stacks. We merged two image analysis approaches into one algorithm to monitor forest change that included: (1) multiple disturbance index thresholds to capture clear-cut harvest; and (2) a spectral trajectory-based image analysis with multiple confidence interval thresholds to map insect outbreak. We produced 20 maps and evaluated classification accuracy with air-photos and insect air-survey data to understand the performance of our algorithm. We achieved overall accuracies ranging from 65% to 75%, with an average accuracy of 72%. The producer’s and user’s accuracy ranged from a maximum of 32% to 70% for insect disturbance, 60% to 76% for insect mortality and 82% to 88% for harvested forest, which was the dominant disturbance agent. Forest disturbances accounted for 22% of total forested area (7349 km2). Our algorithm provides a basic approach to map disturbance history where large impacts to forest stands have occurred and highlights the limited spectral sensitivity of Landsat time-series to outbreaks of defoliating insects. We found that only harvest and insect mortality events can be mapped with adequate accuracy with a non-annual Landsat time-series. This limited our land cover understanding of NDVI decline drivers. We demonstrate that to capture more subtle disturbances with spectral trajectories, future observations must be temporally dense to distinguish between type and frequency in heterogeneous landscapes.