Satellite-Based Assessment of Grassland Conversion and Related Fire Disturbance in the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

Authors: Katherine Hess*, NASA DEVELOP Program - SSAI, Jeanette Cobian, NASA DEVELOP Program - SSAI, Cheila Avalon Cullen, NASA DEVELOP Program - SSAI, Jacob Ramthun, NASA DEVELOP Program - SSAI
Topics: Remote Sensing, Geographic Information Science and Systems, Land Use and Land Cover Change
Keywords: Alaska, Wildfire Risk, Remote Sensing, GIS, Land Classification, Landsat
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Wilson B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Spruce beetle-induced (Dendroctonus rufipennis (Kirby)) mortality on the Kenai Peninsula has been hypothesized by local ecologists to result in the conversion of forest to grassland and subsequent increased fire danger. This hypothesis stands in contrast to empirical studies in the continental US which suggested that beetle mortality has only a negligible effect on fire danger. In response, we conducted a study using Landsat data and modeling techniques to map land cover change in the Kenai Peninsula and to integrate change maps with other geospatial data to predictively map fire danger for the same region. We collected Landsat imagery to map land cover change at roughly five-year intervals following a severe, mid-1990s beetle infestation to the present. Land cover classification was performed at each time step and used to quantify grassland encroachment patterns over time. The maps of land cover change along with digital elevation models (DEMs), temperature, and historical fire data were used to map and assess wildfire danger across the study area. Results indicate the highest wildfire danger tended to occur in herbaceous and black spruce land cover types, suggesting that the relationship between spruce beetle damage and wildfire danger in costal Alaskan forested ecosystems differs from the relationship between the two in the forests of the coterminous United States. These change detection analyses and fire danger predictions provide the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge ecologists and other forest managers a better understanding of the extent and magnitude of grassland conversion and subsequent change in fire danger.

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