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Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

Posted September 21, 2010 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

Although you can't see a beetle by using Google Earth, you can see regions of forest killed by beetles by using NASA satellites like Landsat. The mountain pine and western pine beetles found in western North America infest lodgepole and whitebark pine trees. It is suggested that the warmer temperatures of the past decade have caused an increase in the beetle population – and a subsequent increase in dying forest. Can these areas be used to predict where fire danger might be greater?

In 2009, Denver, Colorado forestry officials admitted they did not have a good handle on fire prediction or assessment. About seven million acres of forest had been declared dead in the U.S. – with an estimated 22 million acres expected to be added within the following 15 years. (A 2010 fire in Boulder, Colorado is currently burning over 6,400 acres.)

Using Satellite Images

So, can satellite images of beetle-damaged forests be used to help officials predict and prepare for wildfires? A research team from the University of Wisconsin hiked into forests to look for signs of beetle activity in order to confirm the reason for the death of the trees. Then, they compared the location of the beetle-damaged forest with dead-looking forests on satellite maps and found that the large swaths of brown forest lined up.

Satellite imagery is also used to track the progress of ongoing fires. There are several sites online that track fires, including InciWeb and the Active Fire Mapping Program. (Obviously, tracking by helicopter is more real-time, but the satellite images help share the pictures globally.)

Disproving a Theory

Ecologists from Yellowstone National Park and the University of Washington are conducting studies to determine if the beetle-forest fire theory is true. Some of their findings say not quite:

  • Green needles are actually fairly combustible – they contain flammable volatile oils that break down after the needles fall off the tree and die.
  • Beetles kill the trees, causing the needles to drop off. It is hard for a fire to start with just dead logs and no kindling.

A similar phenomenon was noted after the Yellowstone fires of 1988 when large tree trunks were left standing after the fire burned the needles and branches as there wasn't enough "fuel". However, the brushy re-growth from a forest fire can act as quick fuel.

Another theory says that the warmer climate is to blame for forest fires – not the beetles. Four ecologists say that drought and warm weather are causing the fires and beetle outbreaks don't add to the risk.

Resources:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100908171130.htm

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/beetles-fire.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/28/us/28wildfires.html

http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/09/09/firefighters-fear-fresh-winds-in-battling-boulder-wildfire/

http://www.gjsentinel.com/news/articles/report_climate_not_beetles_mai

http://www.climatecentral.org/library/climopedia/bark_beetle_outbreaks_may_influence_forest_fire_risk/

http://www.satimagingcorp.com/svc/forestry.html

http://www.fs.fed.us/wwetac/threats/wildfire.html

http://www.inciweb.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_pine_beetle (images)

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#1

Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/21/2010 7:38 AM

There have always been forest fires. It has been man stewardship of the forest that have made it worst. Instead of letting the fire burn the dead build up on the ground. We have stop and controlled the fires so that it has build up for decades. This is what fuels the fires. Where the fires would have quickly consume what little was on the forest floor it would have had little effect on the mature trees. Now with so much fuel there it does damage them.

As far as the beetle is concerned may be fire is natures way of control. These areas have been warmer. So the beetle has done it harm before. The forest is still standing so something has controlled them in the past.

You ever think may be we try too hard and make it worst. May be just to stand back and let nature take its course. A lot of what what your taking about is land set a side to preserve nature. So let it do its thing!

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#2
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Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/21/2010 8:39 AM

GA for a good thought. Humans are notorious for making everything worse. We seem to be so intent on saving things that don't need saving. Nature had its own ways before humans came along. They will have their own ways after we are gone.

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Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/21/2010 12:25 PM

All we hear is how the beetles are killing the trees. It's not the beetles the trees can handle the beetles. It's some of the beetle have adapted a relationship to blue stain fungus. The fungus is whats killing the trees. The beetles just using it to retard sap excretion. That the tree would naturally use to force the beetle out.

As I understand it the healthy trees can handle the beetles. So if we the amount of damage the beetles are doing as gauge for the trees in the forest health we see that they are doing poorly to begin with. Fires always been natures way to rid the forest of the weak and unhealthy trees.

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#4
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Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/21/2010 5:54 PM

"It's not the beetles the trees can handle the beetles..."

Huh? Here are several hundred images of forest tracts and individual stands of timber, and some images of the damage the larvae of one female beetle can do to a tree. The larvae eat the life supporting xylem sapwood from under the bark, girdling the tree and strangling it. Dead tree.

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Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/21/2010 7:20 PM

I think there was supposed to be a comma: "It's not the beetles, the trees can handle the beetles..."

Longer version: It's not the beetles killing the trees, the trees can handle the beetles.

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Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/22/2010 7:29 AM

Here is some of the pictures from your link you can see the blue stain fungus in the wood all around the beetles tubes.

Here is a trees cross section that you can see the depth of the attack by the fungus. I'm not saying that the beetles are not a problem. It's just that the trees may very well been able to handle the infestation of the beetles if they did not have this fungus with them which attacks the tree also. It is what is doing the real damage. With out it the beetles would not be multiplying as fast. Sap from the tree would have force them out or encased them or their young. The fungus retards the trees ability to produce sap.

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#6

Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/21/2010 11:33 PM

None of you answered the question! I don't know the answer, I doubt if anyone can speak with any honesty.

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Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/22/2010 7:55 AM

"Can these areas be used to predict where fire danger might be greater?"

You mean this question? Yes I can there is a greater danger all though out them with all the standing dead wood to get a fire started and floor bed covered with pine needles. The larger the area of the dead wood the greater the danger and chance. What we can't predict is the cause or when. Lighting strike, lit cigarette, piece of broken glass

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#7

Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/22/2010 2:42 AM

"Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?"

NO

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#8

Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/22/2010 3:15 AM

Quote, '

  • Green needles are actually fairly combustible – they contain flammable volatile oils that break down after the needles fall off the tree and die.
  • Beetles kill the trees, causing the needles to drop off. It is hard for a fire to start with just dead logs and no kindling.

Whoever wrote this has not been in forests very much.

Quote, 'Four ecologists say' Why just last week they were janitors but got promoted as the writer needed some source for a silly statement.

When writers refer to 'scientists', 'environmentalists', 'concerned citizens' and such I get leery. With no names involved you could renew the old claim that the sun revolves around the earth because 4 'scientists' said so. Attach a name and background and it is different.

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Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/22/2010 6:48 AM

This is why I always include a resources section in my blogs (unless I'm writing completely from experience). Readers can find out more information if they are curious or would like to check my facts.

"University of Wisconsin forest ecologists Monica Turner and Phil Townsend, in collaboration with Renkin, are studying the connection in the forests near Yellowstone National Park." comes from this link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100908171130.htm The article goes into some detail about the flammability of needles.

"For Yellowstone National Park Vegetation Management Specialist Roy Renkin, those worries are nothing new. "I've heard [the tinderbox analogy] ever since I started my professional career in the forestry and fire management business 32 years ago," he said. "But having the opportunity to observe such interaction over the years in regards to the Yellowstone natural fire program, I must admit that observations never quite met with the expectation."" comes from this link: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/beetles-fire.html

The quote about the four ecologist comes from this source: http://www.gjsentinel.com/news/articles/report_climate_not_beetles_mai. They actually don't use names, either, until later in the article, and I don't believe they are quoting the ecologists in all cases.

"A new report by four forest ecologists says climate rather than beetles is the main cause of forest fire risk, and that risk is best addressed by creating defensible spaces around homes instead of logging in the backcountry."

"Dominik Kulakowski, a professor of geography and biology at Clark University in Massachusetts, has studied the relationship between beetle outbreaks and forest fires in Colorado for more than a decade.

He said new research is showing that dry needles of beetle-killed trees don't increase fire risk, because they fall from trees quickly enough to reduce the total volume of fire-carrying fuels in the forest canopy."

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#13
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Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

10/28/2010 1:19 PM

Starting a fire with dead wood or old needles is far easier.

Once a fire is burning hot enough to dry out whatever is in it' path the green trees will easily be caught up.

Once the forest fire is started I doubt that dead or alive makes much difference.

I remember burning slash in the forest in Oregon years back - after the first fall rain you could not start the forest on fire. You had to work hard to get the piled slash started.

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#12

Re: Can Forest Fires Be Predicted Using Satellite Photos of Beetle Damage?

09/28/2010 12:16 PM

what about thermal imagery ? or infra red showing heat build up early ?

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