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Fires play a critical role in healthy forests but also damage property. Around the world, fires are increasing in intensity and frequency. Remote sensing satellites are vital to understanding the size and severity to plan rescue and post-fire recovery.

Episode 102 – LANDFIRE 2022 Update

A woman smiles while dressed in a yellow suit with a fire burning in the background
Inga La Puma on the set of a prescribed burn.

LANDFIRE, short for Landscape Fire and Resource Management Planning Tools, is a key national data source for the management of wildfires, management of the plant materials that fuel fires, and planning for prescribed fires across all 50 states and the U.S. territories. The data products, partly derived from satellite imagery, are generated at EROS through a partnership between the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service, with The Nature Conservancy as an additional partner. In this episode, we learn about how LANDFIRE is including more up-to-date information than ever about disturbances to the land.

Guest: Inga La Puma, a USGS EROS contractor at the time of the recording but now with the USDA Forest Service, still as a LANDFIRE fire scientist

Host: Jane Lawson (contractor for USGS EROS)

Release date: Monday, August 28, 2023

Episode 83 - ECOSTRESS and Burn Severity

Logo on fire background with two mugshots on left

ECOSTRESS, or ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station, data provides variables related to plant water stress, including evapotranspiration, evaporative stress index and water use efficiency. The NASA Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LP DAAC) at EROS provides storage and distribution of ECOSTRESS data. In this episode, we take a look at how these variables were useful for research that looked at predictors for spatial patterns of burn severity in recent California wildfires in the Sierra Nevada and the Southern California Mountains.

Guests: Madeleine Pascolini-Campbell, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Natasha Stavros, Earth Lab Analytics Hub, University of Colorado Boulder

Host: Jane Lawson

Release date: Monday, November 7, 2022

Episode 66 - Exotic Annual Grasses

Color thumbnail for Eyes on Earth Episode 66 - Mapping Exotic Annual Grasses
From top, USGS EROS scientist Stephen Boyte, USGS EROS contractor Devendra Dahal, USDA Forest Service ecologist Matt Reeves.

The rangelands of the western United States are changing more quickly than many other parts of the lower 48. Miles upon miles of the area or semi-arid landscapes in states like Idaho, Montana and Nevada are now carpeted by fire fueling invasive grasses. Cheatgrass is the most prevalent, which is troublesome for several reasons. First off, it greens up and browns down really quickly, leaving a layer of tinder-like vegetation. In many areas, it fills in the formerly barren spaces between thicker bunchgrasses and sagebrush, which in turn helps fires move rapidly from fuel source to fuel source. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear from the USGS EROS teams who use satellite data to map exotic annual grasses and a researcher who uses those maps to create monthly grass abundance estimates for firefighters and land managers.

Guests: Stephen Boyte, USGS EROS research physical scientist, Devendra Dahal, USGS EROS contractor, Matt Reeves, USDA Forest Service ecologist

Host: John Hult

Release date: January 24, 2022

Episode 65 - Rapid Fire Mapping with Remote Sensing

color thumbnail for Eyes on Earth Episode 65 - Rapid Fire Mapping with Remote Sensing
Pictured, from top, are Andre Coleman, Rick Stratton, and Lee Miller.

Satellites like Landsat are valuable for mapping fire perimeters and for monitoring trends in burn severity or in post-fire recovery. Satellites can cover wide areas with a single pass, whereas helicopter, drone, or airplane fire line mapping can take hours. But civilian satellites with moderate resolution typically don't get imagery for the entire planet every day, and every day counts when large fires rage. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, we talk through a tool called RADR-Fire built to pull data from a wide variety of sources to map disaster impacts on a day-by-day basis. ECOSTRESS, a sensor on the International Space Station whose data are archived at the NASA’s EROS-based Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LP DAAC), has been an especially useful source of information. 

Guests: Andre Coleman, senior research scientist, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Lee Miller, remote sensing specialist, PNNL, Rick Stratton, USDA Forest Service

Host: John Hult

Release date: January 10, 2022

Episode 64 – Colorado Bark Beetles

Color image of Dr. Zhiliang Zhu, Dr. Kyle Rodman, and Dr. Sarah Hart
From top, Dr. Zhiliang Zhu, Dr. Kyle Rodman, and Dr. Sarah Hart.

Outbreaks of native bark beetles can lead to conspicuous changes in a forest landscape. They’ve been present for thousands of years with occasional outbreaks, but there’s a lot we don’t yet understand about them. Exactly when and where have outbreaks occurred? How severe were they? What happened to the forest afterward? How will a warming climate influence outbreaks? On this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear from researchers Dr. Sarah Hart and Dr. Kyle Rodman, who use Landsat to help find answers to those questions. A recent study led by Dr. Rodman used Landsat to identify the locations and severity of bark beetle outbreaks in the southern Rocky Mountains. The researchers were surprised to find smaller areas of severe mortality than they expected. Landsat can even be used to help predict patterns of future outbreaks. Dr. Zhiliang Zhu, a USGS researcher, adds his perspective of the effects of forest disturbance as well.

Guests: Dr. Sarah Hart, forest ecologist, Colorado State University; Dr. Kyle Rodman, research scientist, Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute; Dr. Zhiliang Zhu, USGS biologic carbon sequestration researcher

Host: Jane Lawson

Release date: December 27, 2021

Episode 63 - ECOSTRESS and Post-Fire Recovery 

color image of Dr. Helen Poulos, with the graphic for the USGS EROS podcast Eyes on Earth
Dr. Helen Poulos

Fires can be destructive or healthy for a landscape—often both. Fires have grown larger and more destructive in recent years, though, thanks to human activity, climate change, and a host of other factors. Satellite data helps us to map and monitor fire activity, but the study of post-fire plant life using remote sensing data goes further than fire mapping. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear from Dr. Helen Poulos, who used data from the ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station, (ECOSTRESS), to study Arizona Pine Oak Forest 5-7 years after severe fire. Dr. Poulos and her collaborators at Northern Arizona University and the University of Maine at Farmington learned that post-fire shrublands had surprisingly high rates of water use. ECOSTRESS data are available through NASA’s Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center or LP DAAC, which is located at EROS.

Guest: Dr. Helen Poulos, forest ecologist, Wesleyan University

Host: John Hult

Release date: December 13, 2021

Episode 53 - Remapping Canada's Fire History

Ellen Whitman and Rob Skakun of Natural Resources Canada with the graphic for the USGS EROS podcast "Eyes on Earth"
Ellen Whitman (upper left) and Rob Skakun of Natural Resources Canada.

Mapping fire perimeters is important work. It guides post-fire restoration efforts, fire mitigation strategies, and helps track of trends in burn severity over time. In the past, many of Canada’s fire agencies relied heavily on techniques like sketch mapping, which estimate burned area without exact measurements. In the pre-satellite era, pilots would sometimes fly over the edge of a fire while a passenger recorded its extent. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear about what two researchers from Natural Resources Canada learned when they used Landsat satellite data to rebuild historical fire perimeters. 

Guest:  Ellen Whitman and Rob Skakun, Natural Resources Canada

Host: John Hult

Release date: June 28, 2021

Episode 51 – LANDFIRE 2019 Limited

Color photo of Henry Bastian and Frank Fay with USGS EROS Eyes on Earth podcast logo
Frank Fay (upper right) of the USDA Forest Service and Henry Bastian of the Department of Interior, pictured with the graphic for the USGS EROS podcast "Eyes on Earth."

The fire science community is always on the lookout for the freshest satellite-derived fire disturbance maps. Aiming to meet those needs, the multi-agency partnership known as LANDFIRE has just released an update that adds three new years of disturbances across the U.S. to its 20-plus layers of GIS data. LANDFIRE 2019 Limited is a step toward annual updates for the program, which is relied upon nationwide to guide land management and fire planning. On this episode, two LANDFIRE leaders talk about why they’re working to speed up new releases.

Guests: Henry Bastian, LANDFIRE Business Lead, Department of Interior, Frank Fay, LANDFIRE Business Lead, USDA Forest Service

Host: John Hult

Release date: June 1, 2021

Episode 49 – Fire Atlas

Krishna Bhattarai with the logo for the USGS EROS podcast Eyes on Earth
Krishna Bhattarai, contractor, USGS EROS Center.

Teams at the USGS EROS Center have completed fire atlases for nine National Parks across the U.S. Each atlas defines the size and severity of each fire in each park since 1984, including fires too small to be mapped by other programs. Yellowstone National Park has had nearly 100 fires, for example, ranging from a few acres to thousands of acres. The project used data from Landsat for earlier years, and both Landsat and Copernicus Sentinel-2 data for more recent fires. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear from a project leader at EROS about the fire atlas effort.

Guest: Krishna Bhattarai, USGS EROS contractor, technical lead for Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS)

Host: Jane Lawson

Release date: May 3, 2021

Episode 48 – Satellites and the Forest Census

Color photo of Karen Schleeweis with the logo for the USGS EROS podcast Eyes on Earth
Karen Schleewies, FIA Techniques Research Band Lead/LANDFIRE Liaison, U.S. Forest Service.

It’s possible to map vegetation type with Landsat, but getting the maps right requires more than satellites alone. The teams behind LANDFIRE use an extensive network of ground control points to check their work, thereby bolstering the reliability and utility of their multi-layer GIS product suite. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, we meet scientist Karen Schleeweis, who tells us about LANDFIRE’s largest single source of ground truth data, a U.S. Forest Service program called Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA).

Guest: Karen Schleeweis, FIA Techniques Research Band Lead/LANDFIRE Liaison, U.S. Forest Service

Host: John Hult

Release date: April 19, 2021

Episode 42 – Rangelands of the U.S.

color photo of USGS EROS scientist Matthew Rigge
USGS EROS Research Physical Scientist Matthew Rigge.

The extensive rangelands across the Western United States are threatened by invasive grasses, climate change, and altered fire regimes that can disturb the landscape. The largely semi-arid lands are also important for the survival of species that need undisturbed sagebrush ecosystems to thrive. But most satellite-based land cover datasets don’t offer the kind of detail needed to track small but ecologically meaningful shifts in vegetation that can alter fire regimes and improve habitats. In this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear about how new EROS data products help fill in that gap.

Guest:  Matt Rigge, Research Physical Scientist, USGS EROS Center

Host: John Hult

Release date: January 25, 2021

Episode 30 – Remapping LANDFIRE

Color photo of ecologist Randy Swaty with USGS Eyes on Earth podcast logo
Ecologist Randy Swaty

In the days before LANDFIRE, fire scientists often struggled to find the vegetation and fuels data they needed to map the path of fires, keep firefighters safe, and to model fire recovery. The dizzying array of data points found in the map layers of the LANDFIRE product suite—from hundreds of vegetation classes to tree canopy height and bulk to fuel potential and beyond—became indispensable upon its release in 2005. Since then, it’s also proven its worth to land managers, ecologists, biologists, carbon modelers and others, and has been cited in over 1,000 papers. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear from a non-profit LANDFIRE partner about the multi-agency federal program’s value, and about recent efforts to remap the United States to improve the product.

Guests: Randy Swaty, The Nature Conservancy

Host: John Hult

Release date: July 27, 2020

Episode 27 - Australian Wildfires

Color image of Australian wildfire with the graphic for the podcast "Eyes on Earth"
Simon Oliver (top) and Steve Labahn.

The continent of Australia experienced some of the most devastating wildfires in its history in late 2019 and early 2020. Remote sensing scientists in Australia, who collaborate closely with EROS, relied on satellites like Landsat to help assess and monitor the damage. In this episode, we hear from one of our Australian partners on the value of satellite imagery before, during, and after a wildfire, and we explore how cross-hemisphere partnerships improve our understanding of disasters around the globe.

Guests: Simon Oliver, Geoscience Australia, Steve Labahn, USGS

Host: Steve Young

Release date: June 15, 2020

Episode 24 – Wildfire Risk to Communities

Color photo of Henry Bastian and Frank Fay with USGS EROS Eyes on Earth podcast logo
Frank Fay (upper right) of the USDA Forest Service and Henry Bastian of the Department of Interior.

The U.S. has plenty of data on wildfire risk. There are local and regional risk assessments, complex datasets like LANDFIRE and tracking tools like the EROS Fire Danger Monitor, as well as a host of resources and research projects devoted to the subject. But much of that information is steeped in the language of fire science and difficult to comprehend for those outside it. In this episode, we hear from Frank Fay of the USDA Forest Service, who describes a new website that represents the first national tool on wildfire risk designed with communities and the general public in mind. The tool was built with data from the LANDFIRE program and numerous other sources, and offers a window into fire risk for every community in the U.S.

Guests: Frank Fay, USDA Forest Service

Host: John Hult

Release date: May 4, 2020

Episode 23 – Ecosystem Monitoring

Color photo of Melanie Vanderhoof
Melanie Vanderhoof.

Landsat satellites offer a wealth of information to scientists studying ecosystem health and recovery. Data products derived from Landsat open even more areas of inquiry. Landsat Burned Area products, for example, can help researchers identify previously unknown fires that took place from 1984 through the present. In this episode of Eyes on Earth, we talk to one of the scientists behind that product about Landsat’s role in monitoring ecosystem health and recovery.

Guests: Dr. Melanie Vanderhoof, USGS

Host: Steve Young

Release date: April 20, 2020

Episode 15 – Burn Severity Mapping

Color photo of Birgit Peterson with USGS EROS "Eyes on Earth" podcast graphic
USGS EROS Geographer and Senior Scientist Birgit Peterson.

Scientists at EROS have spent years refining their approach to mapping burn severity using remotely-sensed data from satellites like Landsat, but Landsat comes with limitations. Landsat data cannot see the vegetation below a thick tree canopy, for example. In this episode, we learn about a project in South Dakota’s Black Hills that seeks to leverage 3D data gathered using Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to improve burn mapping and help land managers.

Guests: Birgit Peterson, Geographer and Senior Scientist, EROS; Gail Schmidt, Software Engineer, EROS contractor

Host: Steve Young

Release date: Jan. 27, 2020