Keeping LANDFIRE Data Current – It’s a Matter of Disturbance

Submitted by tadamson on

LANDFIRE’s latest directive is to provide agency leaders and managers with common “all-lands” datasets for strategic fire and resource management planning and analysis covering the 50 States, Puerto Rico, and insular territories on an annual basis. This mandate requires near-continuous mapping of landscape-level change (disturbance) and updating more than 20 geospatial products at 30-meter resolution. Included are geospatial data from various Federal and State land management agencies as well as fire severity information from large-scale fire-mapping programs. 

LANDFIRE’s disturbance products reflect abrupt interannual changes originating from either human or natural incidents, but they also include agency-submitted “Events” that indicate vegetation or fuel treatment activity. Disturbances not provided as Events are captured via remote sensing, mostly from Landsat satellites 5–9. Team members undertake meticulous analysis and verification steps to ensure the high quality of LANDFIRE disturbance products. Analysts apply their knowledge and experience to discern whether a flagged landscape change is valid; for instance, the abrupt removal of trees due to forest thinning would be retained, while a temporary flood would be removed. 

The scope of landscape change across the United States can be difficult to perceive without visualizations. The provided graphic highlights the northwestern U.S. to emphasize the extent and number of changes that can occur over a relatively short period of time. In this 4-year timespan, LANDFIRE staff mapped 98,328,675 acres as changed/managed (CONUS), which equates to just under 5% of all lands, or approximately 1.24% per year.

Recent advancements in change detection algorithms, data access, and image processing have led to multiple improvements. Nevertheless, free and open access to the Landsat archive and image processing on high-performance computers have been the most impactful. Rather than scanning through search-and-order engines for the “best” single Landsat scenes, analysts now algorithmically take the cloud- and shadow-free pixels from large stacks of single scenes to make cloud-free image composites in a fraction of the time. 

LANDFIRE disturbance data are applicable across disciplines, such as habitat suitability, forest health, carbon stock accounting, and storm damage. The range of applications has positioned disturbance products as some of LANDFIRE’s most popular. In 2022 alone, there were over 4,500 CONUS-wide downloads. If your work can benefit from knowing where land cover changes have occurred, visit LANDFIRE disturbance data or LANDFIRE’s Data Distribution Site (DDS). 

Changes are both plentiful and extensive in the northwestern United States. Maps of the timing and location of disturbances provide valuable information for land managers and researchers across disciplines.  

Disclaimer: Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Author Name
Brian Tolk
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