US: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled ForWarn, a satellite-based natural resource monitoring and assessment tool. It aims to help natural resource managers rapidly detect, identify and respond to unexpected changes in forests. It recognises and tracks potential forest disturbances caused by insects, diseases, wildfires, extreme weather, or other natural or human-caused events. The tool complements and focuses efforts of existing forest monitoring programmes and potentially results in time and cost savings.
The prototype version of ForWarn is using MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) satellite imagery to recognise and track changes in vegetation across the nation, providing a near-real-time view of potential forest disturbance and recovery. It uses a web-based map tool, the Forest Change Assessment Viewer, to provide an eight-day, coast-to-coast snapshot of the US landscape, interpret images, and create geographically relevant maps. The viewer allows users to explore and share recent and archived forest disturbance maps.
Danny C. Lee, Director of the Eastern Threat Center said, “ForWarn epitomises the type of product envisioned when the Threat Assessment Centers were created. This tool literally puts space-age technology into the hands of forest resource professionals. It’s a remarkable collaborative achievement.” The Eastern and Western Threat Centers are jointly supported by the Forest Service’s National Forest System, State and Private Forestry, and Research and Development.
“ForWarn and the Forest Change Assessment Viewer are intuitive products that use advanced technology to provide a current look at forest changes and help focus on-the-ground response efforts,” said William Hargrove, Eastern Threat Center lead ForWarn researcher. “Our goal is to help natural resource managers, scientists, and other decision makers better identify, understand, and react to environmental disturbances. We will continue to refine and update these tools that will help guide activities and resources in impacted areas.”
Joe Spruce, lead scientist on this project at NASA Stennis, stated that ForWarn provides “the USDA Forest Service and its partners with vital broad-scale information on the location and extent of regionally evident forest disturbances, helping resource managers conduct more detailed aerial and field surveys.” He added, “This effort is precisely the Applied Sciences Program’s mission – to move NASA science to operational users for real socio-economic benefit.”
The Eastern and Western Threat Centers, NASA Stennis Space Center’s Applied Science & Technology Project Office, and other federal and university partners developed ForWarn in response to the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003. The Act specifies development of a comprehensive National Early Warning System to detect potential catastrophic environmental threats to forests. ForWarn is a strategic research component of the National Early Warning System and is currently being tested by federal and state forest and natural resource managers throughout the country.