The Laboratory for Applications of Remote Sensing in Ecology (LARSE) is a laboratory of the Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS), focusing globally on: 1) Landsat-based land cover change detection, and 2) forest structure measurement using lidar instruments. LARSE recently transitioned to RMRS from the Pacific Northwest Research Station, where it was developed as a collaboration with Oregon State University’s College of Forestry. LARSE emerged in the 1990s from an array of related remote sensing research projects focused on terrestrial ecology problems.
This activity began in 1989 with a concentration on using digital imagery to characterize forest structure in the Pacific Northwest Douglas-fir/western hemlock zone. Within a few short years, Landsat-based maps of forest structure were being directly incorporated into ecological analyses and models operating at landscape to regional scales. LARSE employs scientists in a variety of positions, including permanent staff, post-docs, faculty research assistants, graduate students, student workers, and international scholars. There are also a number of full-time scientists not directly supported by the Lab that actively collaborate on LARSE research projects.
We at RMRS regularly use Landsat to characterize change across the full time series length from 1972-present, with a national focus across all lands and cover types. We were early adopters of lidar data to derive detailed forest structure characteristics, and developed innovative methods for scaling between field measurements and MODIS data using Landsat imagery. Because integration across datasets is the future of remote sensing applications in ecology, an important current focus is the complementary blending of lidar, Landsat, MODIS, and other datasets.
Remaining firmly rooted to the ground, LARSE research routinely incorporates field data and our scientists maintain a strong connection to the ecosystems in which they work. Applications include monitoring of natural resources, modeling of carbon flux and biodiversity, and determining water storage consequences of mapped land cover change. Activities and data sources continue to expand.
Over the last three decades, remote sensing technology and data access policies have evolved significantly. While the continuity of the Landsat platform is crucial to our ability to monitor forest ecosystem structure and change, LARSE has embraced increased availability of both Landsat and lidar data to improve what we can learn about how our forests are changing. We make extensive use of cloud-based computing tools and image archives, particularly Google Earth Engine. LARSE leads development and production of national 30-m forest change maps through the Landscape Change Monitoring System (LCMS); these maps are designed to be the best-available record of the intensity, frequency, and spatial pattern of processes like fire, forest harvest, and insect activity. LARSE is also responsible for the gridded biomass estimates that will be produced through the upcoming NASA GEDI (Global Ecosystems Dynamics Investigation) mission. In addition to contributing to monitoring for the Northwest Forest Plan, these applications provide a means for LARSE innovations to contribute to what society knows about the planet’s forests.