Application of Remote Sensing and GIS for Forestry
Application of Remote Sensing and GIS for Forestry


Many government, state, and private forestry organizations and agencies today utilize geospatial technology such as GIS (geographic information systems) and remote sensing for various applications supporting analysis, assessment, and management of our forests.

Satellite View of Colorado Satellite View of Copper Mountain Ski Resort

Left to right: Satellite View of Pike National Forest, Colorado; Satellite View of Copper Mountain Ski Resort, Colorado

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Forestry organizations and agencies have a unique and critical role in the nation's governance. They serve in public land management, private land regulation, and wildfire management. While their significance is growing due to these roles and the increasing impact of forestry on other matters of societal importance, the nation's state forestry organizations are among the most extensive geospatial technology users of any agency. Many state foresters have indicated that geospatial technology is an invaluable resource whenever they need to understand, communicate, and make effective decisions about conditions on the ground. Forestry has long been and will likely always be a worldwide societal concern with issues that require appropriate attention by government policy makers, such as meeting the demand for forest resources while ensuring conservation and preservation. Geospatial technology aids foresters in the acquisition of the data that is necessary to further research, manage, and recover present and future conditions of the global forests.

Satellite and Aerial Remote Sensors

Satellite Imaging Corporation provides advanced remote sensing techniques, multi-spectral and panchromatic image data processing services (including orthorectification), haze reduction and removal, pan sharpening, image enhancements, georeferencing and mosaicing, and color/grayscale balancing by our experienced imaging and GIS staff. Optional satellite imaging features may incorporate specialized processing procedures, which are used to analyze land cover and change detection, extraction of culture data, normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) classification and mapping, lithological classification, environmental analysis, urban development, and monitoring emergencies.


The composition and viability of a forest may be determined using a combination of remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS). GIS uses different levels of geographical information, such as elevation, hydrology, or the location of roads and infrastructure, to create a multi-layered representation of a site. This data is available for large areas, and it can be interpreted to provide information on:

Fire and Emergency Mapping

IKONOS - 0.82m high resolution

Satellite Photograph of San Bernadino Wildfires

Above: Satellite Photograph of Wildfires in San Bernardino, California

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ASTER - 15m/30m resolution

ASTER Satellite Image of Topanga Fire

Above: Topanga Fire, California

Photo credit: NASA/Japanese Space Team

Fire and emergency applications are one of the strongest uses of GIS and remote sensing, particularly fire mapping, responding to emergency situations, hazardous fuels reduction, community assistance, firefighting, rehabilitation, and restoration. Forest fires have an important influence on the vegetation cover, animals, plants, soil, stream flow, air quality, microclimate, and even general climate. The loss of timber is obvious and so is the damage to life and property. The loss of recreation value of the forest and the destruction of wildlife habitat are also consequences of forest fires.

Researchers and scientists have long been trying to predict the behavior of a forest fire. Computer modeling has been the effort of many scientists using high resolution satellite imagery and GIS. In order to model a forest fire, the techniques for obtaining, analyzing and displaying spatial information in a timely and cost-effective manner are needed which has proven not only to be possible, but incredibly efficient and effective.

Forest Management

Spectral Classification, Mississippi Forest Spruce Beetle Infestation, Arkansas

Left to right: Spectral Classification of Mississippi Forest, Spruce Beetle Infestation in Arkansas

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Crown Mapping Crown Mapping Crown Mapping

Crown mapping with four size classification based on crown diameter and ground verified sample data

Crown Mapping Crown Mapping Crown Mapping

Crown Mapping with Ground Verified Diameter Breast Height Data

Above: Canopy and Crown Mapping

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Managing forests for old growth and wildlife habitat, information such as canopy cover (above image), tree size (height and crown diameter), biomass, life form, large tree density, crown volume, and vertical foliar diversity, among others, are routinely needed.

Many applications of forestry and natural resources require accurate land cover and change analysis. Changing conditions due to urban sprawl, as well as increasing forest fragmentation, make land cover and change analysis an extremely important consideration for management, planning and inventory mapping. This includes ecosystem and species diversity, forest productivity, reforestation, forest health, conservation of soil, water resources, and nutrient cycling.

Water, Wetlands, and Watersheds — Water is perhaps the most confusing natural resource to manage. GIS and remote sensing are used to find solutions to environmental problems through improved information effectiveness and efficiency. The assessment and monitoring of water quality over broad geographic areas which are difficult to reach is used by traditional sampling methods. Remote sensing, in this manner, could aid in determining the effects of forest management activities, such as timber harvesting and best management practices on soil erosion and sedimentation. It could also assist in the detection of invasive species through identification of water bodies that have clear water and high algae signatures.


Logging in Madagascar Deforestation in Tarauca, Brazil

Left to right: Logging in Madagascar 1, Deforestation in Tarauca, Brazil 2

1 Copyright © 2010 DigitalGlobe. All rights reserved. 2 Credit: LANDSAT 7 - USGS

LANDSAT - 14.25m/28m resolution

LANDSAT Satellite Image of Deforestation

Above: LANDSAT 2, 4, and 7 - Deforestation in Bolivia from 1975 to 2000

Photo credit: USGS

Deforestation in Brazil

Above: Deforestation in Mato Grasso, Brazil. Image credit: Jeff Schamltz/NASA

ASTER - 15m/30m resolution

ASTER Satellite Image of Deforestation

Above: Deforestation - Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia — 1986-2001

Photo credit: NASA/Japanese Space Team

The tropical rainforests of the world are an important and crucial part of our planets ecosystem. Currently the rainforests are being depleted at alarming rates. The causes for rainforest depletion are mainly due to human activities, such as ranching, agriculture, and urban development. These areas must be monitored in order to provide current and complete information in order to better understand and protect the rainforests.

Satellite Imaging Corporation provides orthorectified satellite images and digital aerial photography that can be processed for visualization of terrain conditions in three dimensions (3D) or digital elevation models (DEMs), which are generated from a variety of resources. A digital elevation model can be used to closely examine various terrain attributes, their influence on the movement of soil and nutrients, as well as the resulting effect on forest, plant, and wildlife productivity and distribution.

3D ArcScene of Dutch Harbor

ArcScene 9.1 - 3D Terrain Visualization - Dutch Harbor - Alaska

The final DEM data is provided in a variety of digital GIS and mapping formats, which can be used in GIS programs such as ArcGIS with 3D Analyst module.

DEM of Coal Seam Fires

Above: DEM of Fires in Pike National Forest, Colorado

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