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Anushree Badola points to her name on the American Geophysical Union talk schedule. Photo by Rod Boyce
Anushree Badola points to her name on the American Geophysical Union talk schedule. Photo by Rod Boyce

AGU research spotlight: Knowing a forest’s makeup is key for firefighting

Wildfires are a natural part of the Alaska boreal ecosystem, but a recent increase in the number of fires with high acreage burned raises the risk for inhabitants.

Increasing temperature, reduced precipitation and dry and windy conditions are major causes of that increase.

Knowing the tree species of an area can help in fighting wildfires and in fire prevention decision-making. Accurate and repeated mapping of plant types, especially the shifting distribution of conifer and deciduous vegetation, is crucial for wildfire and land resource management.

Graduate student Anushree Badola of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute has been devising an approach to map the highly flammable vegetation. She has collected numerous 10-by-10-meter and 30-by-30-meter field plots to validate the product in the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest near Fairbanks.

Badola presented her work Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Chicago.

She used an Airborne Visible InfraRed Imaging Spectrometer image acquired as a part of the NASA ABoVE campaign. She validated analysis of it by using the field-surveyed vegetation plots.

“I want to know the fraction of different species within a pixel, because within each square pixel we can have spruce, birch, aspen — we can have many different species,” she said.

“What we want to do with that is identify the proportion of needle leaf species because they are highly flammable,” she said “Firefighters and land managers want to know the location of such species so that they can prioritize those areas.”

Conifer trees such as black and white spruce tend to burn and spread fire more quickly than deciduous trees such as aspen, birch and cottonwood. Interior Alaska forests contain all five species.


• Rod Boyce, University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, 907-474-7185,