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A 25-year history of forest disturbance and cause in the United States

Date: September 09, 2015


Mountain pine beetle damage
Mountain pine beetle damage
Understanding trends in forest disturbance caused by fire, harvest, stress, weather, and conversion is important for many forest management decisions as well as scientific investigations. After a decade of collaborative work between the Forest Service, NASA, University of Maryland and other partners, the North American Forest Dynamics (NAFD) project has processed historic Landsat data. This effort provides a comprehensive annual, wall-to-wall analysis of U.S. disturbance history over the last 25 years. Substantial progress has been made to also identify specific causal agents through time, and nationwide datasets will soon be available for exploring spatial and temporal patterns in U.S. forests.
Clearcut forest
Clearcut forest

Current Status

Currently in its third phase, the North American Forest Dynamics (NAFD) project is completing nationwide processing of historic Landsat data to provide a comprehensive annual, wall-to-wall analysis of U.S. disturbance history over the last 25 years. Because understanding the cause of disturbance is important to many forest-related applications, Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists and collaborators have developed methods to map forest disturbance agents through time.

Starting with 10 pilot scenes across the United States representing diverse disturbance regimes, scientists developed annual maps at 30 meters resolution of fire, harvest, conversion, stress and other agents. It was no surprise that high magnitude disturbances such as clear cuts, land use change, and severe fire could be mapped quite accurately, but the group also experienced success in mapping more subtle and slow disturbances such as insect and disease outbreaks in the Interior West. Research partners plan to distribute annual nationwide maps depicting when and where a forest disturbance occurred over the last 25 years in the near future. RMRS scientists are also processing national causal agent maps and intermediate spatial data layers. These causal disturbance maps will enable extensive analyses of temporal and spatial patterns in disturbance agents across the United States.

Featured Publications

Masek, Jeffrey G. ; Goward, Samuel N. ; Kennedy, Robert E. ; Cohen, Warren B. ; Moisen, Gretchen ; Schleweiss, Karen ; Huang, Chengquan. , 2013
Moisen, Gretchen ; Schroeder, Todd A. ; Schleeweis, Karen ; Toney, Chris ; Cohen, Warren B. ; Goward, Samuel N. , 2012
Goward, S. N. ; Masek, J. G. ; Cohen, W. ; Moisen, G. ; Collatz, G. J. ; Healey, S. ; Houghton, R. A. ; Huang, C. ; Kennedy, R. ; Law, B. ; Powell, S. ; Turner, D. ; Wulder, M. A. , 2008

Principal Investigators: 
External Partners: 
University of Maryland