In the species-rich and structurally complex forests of the Eastern United States, disturbance events are often partial and therefore difficult to detect using remote sensing methods. Here we present a set of new algorithms, collectively called Vegetation Regeneration and Disturbance Estimates through Time (VeRDET), which employ a novel patch-based approach to detect periods of vegetation disturbance, stability, and growth from the historical Landsat image records. VeRDET generates a yearly clear-sky composite from satellite imagery, calculates a spectral vegetation index for each pixel in that composite, spatially segments the vegetation index image into patches, temporally divides the time series into differently sloped segments, and then labels those segments as disturbed, stable, or regenerating. Segmentation at both the spatial and temporal steps are performed using total variation regularization, an algorithm originally designed for signal denoising. This study explores VeRDET’s effectiveness in detecting forest change using four vegetation indices and two parameters controlling the spatial and temporal scales of segmentation within a calibration region. We then evaluate algorithm effectiveness within a 386,000 km2
area in the Eastern United States where VeRDET has overall error of 23% and omission error across disturbances ranging from 22% to 78% depending on agent.
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