Using ICESat’s Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) to assess large-scale forest disturbance caused by Hurricane Katrina


n 2005, hurricane Katrina resulted in a large disturbance to U.S. forests. Recent estimates of damage from hurricane Katrina have relied primarily on optical remote sensing and field data. This paper is the first large-scale study to use satellite-based lidar data to quantify changes in forest structure from that event. GLAS data for the years prior to and following hurricane Katrina were compared to wind speed, forest cover, and damage data to assess the adequacy of sensor sampling, and to estimate changes in Mean Canopy Height (MCH) over all areas that experienced tropical force winds and greater. Statistically significant decreases in MCH post-Katrina were found to increase with wind intensity: Tropical Storm ∆MCH = − 0.5 m, Category 1 ∆MCH = − 2 m, and Category 2 ∆MCH = − 4 m. A strong relationship was also found between changes in non-photosynthetic vegetation (∆NPV), a metric previously shown to be related to storm damage, and post-storm MCH. The season of data acquisition was shown to influence calculations of MCH and MCH loss, but did not preclude the detection of major large-scale patterns of damage. Results from this study show promise for using space-borne lidar for large-scale assessments of forest disturbance, and highlight the need for future data on vegetation structure from space.


Earth Sciences, Earth Systems Research Center

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Remote Sensing of Environment



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