State-of-the-art geospatial data collection and modeling to assess, monitor and forecast the quality, health and value of Maine forestlands is the focus of a new NASA-funded project led by the University of Maine.

The three-year project, funded by a nearly $750,000 NASA grant, is led by Parinaz Rahimzadeh, assistant professor of remote sensing of natural resources in the UMaine School of Forest Resources. The research team will use remote sensing technology to develop comprehensive models with more detailed, accurate, higher resolution and near-real-time data on forest tree species identification, and forest tree decline detection and damage assessment.

Ultimately, the remote sensing framework for geospatial data collection and modeling will provide information on forest composition as well as damage caused by recent pest and pathogen outbreaks, such as spruce budworm, emerald ash borer and Caliciopsis pine canker.

“Advances in remote sensing technology are revolutionizing the way in which forests are continually measured and monitored,” Rahimzadeh says. This project will connect remote sensing information, such as NASA air- and space-borne hyperspectral and multi-spectral data, with traditional and ground-based data to address immediate needs for precise pest and pathogen control and early intervention, as well as preservation of economic, ecological and cultural assets of forest resources.

The Northeast, the most heavily forested part of the United States, faces numerous challenges: natural disturbances, such as fires, insect outbreaks, ice storms and windthrow; and human-induced, including changing ownership patterns, altered forest harvesting practices, increased developmental pressures, evolving forest regulatory policies and climate change. “Given the number and complexities of the various factors currently influencing Maine’s forests, there is a strong need to better assess and monitor this valuable resource in order to best prepare managers and policymakers for various possible futures,” says Rahimzadeh.

Other members of the research team include UMaine faculty Aaron Weiskittel, Center for Research on Sustainable Forests; Daniel Hayes, School of Forest Resources; and Wilhelm Friess, Department of Mechanical Engineering. They are joined by Peter Nelson of the University of Maine at Fort Kent, and U.S. Forest Service and NASA scientists.

The project, which aligns with the University of Maine System “Research and Development Plan,” will involve undergraduate and graduate student researchers. It also will support targeted engagement with key stakeholders in Maine, such as the forest products industry and conservation organizations.


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