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Open AccessArticle

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

1
NASA DEVELOP National Program, NASA Langley Research Center MS 307, Hampton, VA 23681, USA
2
Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA
3
NOAA-Crest Center, The City University of New York, Bronx, NY 10453, USA
4
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA
5
Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA
6
Science Systems and Applications, Inc., 10210 Greenbelt Rd, Lanham, MD 20706, USA
7
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Soldotna, AK 99669, USA
8
Hydrological Sciences Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Mail Code 617.0, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
9
School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems, Northern Arizona University, 1295 Knoles Dr., Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA
10
Science Systems and Applications, Inc., Consultant, 88384 Diamondhead Drive East, Diamondhead, MS 39525, USA
*
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Remote Sens. 2019, 11(3), 283; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs11030283
Received: 24 November 2018 / Revised: 4 January 2019 / Accepted: 5 January 2019 / Published: 1 February 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Remote Sensing of Wildfire)
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Abstract

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 (KENWR) ecologists and other forest managers a better understanding of the extent and magnitude of grassland conversion and subsequent change in fire danger following the 1990s spruce beetle outbreak. View Full-Text
Keywords: wildfire; modeling; land cover; change detection; Landsat wildfire; modeling; land cover; change detection; Landsat
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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MDPI and ACS Style

Hess, K.A.; Cullen, C.; Cobian-Iñiguez, J.; Ramthun, J.S.; Lenske, V.; Magness, D.R.; Bolten, J.D.; Foster, A.C.; Spruce, J. Satellite-Based Assessment of Grassland Conversion and Related Fire Disturbance in the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Remote Sens. 2019, 11, 283.

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