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Goal: Deliver Benefits to the Public Improving hurricane damage assessments with new satellite technology and outreach

Director’s Choice
Satellite image showing vegetation change after a hurricane
Damage from Hurricane Michael assessed at high resolution—purple and red areas were affected most. Damage varied across this timber production landscape, depending on forest age and structure. The background air photo shows conditions in summer of 2017; overlaid color relates vegetation change from winter 2018 to 2019. (Forest Service photo)

Introduction

Recent advances in satellite technology and collaborative exchange between Forest Service researchers and state forestry agencies have given forest managers greatly improved insights into hurricane damage.

Summary

Damage assessments are crucial in the immediate wake of extreme hurricanes such as Hurricane Michael, which struck the southeastern U.S. in late 2018. The destruction caused by such severe storms typically restricts accessibility, and this, along with the huge scale of the impacted area, makes accurate and rapid assessments from ground observations impossible. Newly available high-frequency, high-resolution satellite technology is a game changer for rapid forest change assessment and monitoring. The European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 twin satellites provide ten-meter observations at five-day intervals that can result in remarkably early and efficient damage insights. With the help of cloud computing and some technical expertise, these high-resolution forest maps can identify damage in hardwood and conifer areas. SRS scientists worked with state and federal forestry agencies to develop repeated assessments after Hurricane Michael and refine on the ground understanding of the damages. This collaborative effort improves the way storm damage can be quantified. Using a similar approach, this technology can also document forest recovery and post-storm salvage logging and the effects of multiple disturbances as part of a systematic landscape monitoring approach.

Principal Investigators
Steve Norman, Research Ecologist
Bill Christie, Biological Scientist
William Hargrove, Research Ecologist
RWU
4854 - Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center
Strategic Program Area
Inventory and Monitoring
Research Partner
UNCA NEMAC
External Partners
Florida Forestry Service
Georgia Forestry Commission
Alabama Forestry Commission