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Harmonization of forest disturbance datasets of the conterminous USA from 1986 to 2011

March 21, 2017

Several spatial forest disturbance datasets exist for the conterminous USA. The major problem with forest disturbance mapping is that variability between map products leads to uncertainty regarding the actual rate of disturbance. In this article, harmonized maps were produced from multiple data sources (i.e., Global Forest Change, LANDFIRE Vegetation Disturbance, National Land Cover Database, Vegetation Change Tracker, and Web-Enabled Landsat Data). The harmonization process involved fitting common class ontologies and determining spatial congruency to produce forest disturbance maps for four time intervals (1986–1992, 1992–2001, 2001–2006, and 2006–2011). Pixels mapped as disturbed for two or more datasets were labeled as disturbed in the harmonized maps. The primary advantage gained by harmonization was improvement in commission error rates relative to the individual disturbance products. Disturbance omission errors were high for both harmonized and individual forest disturbance maps due to underlying limitations in mapping subtle disturbances with Landsat classification algorithms. To enhance the value of the harmonized disturbance products, we used fire perimeter maps to add information on the cause of disturbance.