Vegetation Structure and Remote Sensing of Biophysical settings
Image captured through a "fish eye lens" from underneath the canopy as part of a phenology study investigating the timing of "leaf out" in the spring. Photo: Annette Hall
The types and amount of vegetation in forests and grasslands are largely dependent on the climate (sunlight, temperature and rainfall) and extreme events such as fires, ice storms, insect infestations that those forests and grasslands "experience". And in turn, the types and amount of vegetation in a given place influence the habitat (for example, temperature, soil moisture, water availability, shelter from sun and predators) that animals and people experience there. Therefore, as the climate changes in a place, the vegetation, animal habitats and water availability may also change. We are studying how well climate induced changes in vegetation structure over large areas can be measured using limited ground based data and relatively long records of satellite imagery. The Shenandoah National Park and other areas along the Appalachian Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia are being used as the study area because they are relatively unaffected by land change for other human uses such as housing or agriculture. In other words, changes to study area forests are more likely due to direct (temperature, precipitation) and indirect (extreme events and insect infestations) impacts of climate change. And, managers of National Park habitat and water resources need information on vegetation structural changes to best protect and maintain Park resources. This research is focused on eastern region study sites. But the techniques and understanding developed will help efforts to map, track and forecast vegetation structure, habitat and water resource changes elsewhere.