Use of MODIS NDVI products to map tree mortality levels in forests affected by mountain pine beetle outbreaks
Extensive bark beetle outbreaks have recently occurred in western North American forests, resulting in overstory tree mortality across millions of hectares. Annual aerial surveys are currently used to operationally monitor bark beetle induced tree mortality, though this method is subjective and can exclude some forest areas. Daily Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite data oer a potential alternative means to develop regional tree mortality maps. Accurate methods using such data could aid natural resource managers in surveys of forests with frequent overstory mortality, helping to prioritize forest treatment and restoration activities. This paper discusses a study to test the potential of using MODIS data to detect tree mortality. We developed and tested an approach to use 250-m resolution MODIS Normalized Dierence Vegetation Index (NDVI) data products collected during a mountain pine beetle (MPB) outbreak and related tree mortality event in the northern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA. The 94 km2 study area is predominantly lodgepole pine forest with most of the MPB-caused mortality occurring between 2003 and 2008. We used a 2.4-m forest conditions map from 2008 aerial multispectral imagery to calculate percentage of mortality within 240-m pixels for use as reference data. Using either daily or 16-day products, MODIS NDVI change products were calculated for 2008 versus either 2000 or 2003 baselines. MODIS change products were used as predictors in linear regression analysis to assess correlation between MODIS data and the aerial percent forest mortality map. Depending on the MODIS product, linear regression analyses yielded r2 values ranging from 0.362 to 0.544 without outliers removed and from 0.406 to 0.570 with extreme outliers removed. Daily MODIS NDVI products from 2003 and 2008 were used with exponential regression to improve the r2 to 0.593. The project showed some MODIS NDVI data potential for mapping percent tree mortality in forests subjected to regional bark beetle outbreaks and severe drought.