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Project ID: 10-1-04-7

Year: 2010

Date Started: 08/01/2010

Date Completed: 10/27/2015

Title: A New Time Series Remote Sensing Approach to Mapping Fine Fuels in Sonoran Desert Ecosystems

Project Proposal Abstract: Native and non-native annual and perennial grasses and forbs comprise a majority of the flammable fuel-bed material in southwestern desert ecosystems. Variation in seasonal and annual precipitation mediates plant production cycles which periodically increase the amount and continuity of fine fuels. Mapped fuel parameters in forest-dominated systems do not currently account for seasonal biomass production that is important for assessing fine fuel conditions in southwestern desert vegetation. Map products depicting the spatial and temporal variation in fine fuels composition and biomass are greatly needed to assist land managers in mitigating increasing levels of fire hazard and risk in the desert Southwest. The proposed project will develop and test efficient field data collection techniques to characterize Sonoran Desert vegetation that can be integrated with time series satellite data to model and map fine fuels biomass and composition (i.e., native vs. non-native herbaceous plants). Rapid ground-based digital photography and automated image processing combined with field spectrometer measurements are anticipated to provide fuels data comparable to more conventional sampling methods. Field data will be synthesized with time series data from multitemporal Landsat imagery and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) 16-day vegetation indices to distinguish native and non-native plant phenologies and quantify biomass production. A combination of probabilistic models and machine learning techniques will be used to test hypotheses and model expected differences between native and non-native herbaceous plant phenologies for mapping plant distributions and biomass. Research activities will be focused on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agency land (11,600 km2) in Arizonas southwestern Sonoran Desert, where historically fires are infrequent and of low intensity. However, 1500 unique fire ignition events were recorded in the proposed study area and surrounding landscape between 1975 and 2005. Thirty-one percent of these events have occurred since 2000 and most were initiated in the agriculture and traffic corridors immediately adjacent to BLM lands. Uncharacteristically severe fires are of particular concern since recovery of pre-disturbance vegetation types and critical habitat for federally listed endangered plant and animal species may not occur for centuries. The two principle outputs from the proposed project are a newly developed and efficient means to measure desert fine fuels on the ground and validated remote sensing-based models capable of repeatedly mapping seasonal and annual fine fuels biomass and composition. Fuels mapping techniques will provide fire and fuels specialists and other natural resource managers with improved tools and data for forecasting fire behavior and risk. Once parameterized, models of fine fuels and digital maps for the study area will allow retrospective and prospective studies of fuel conditions and disturbance patterns related to climate change and other environmental stressors. Importantly, the methods developed by the proposed study are anticipated to be transferable to other desert ecosystems of the American Southwest such as Mojave Desert vegetation.

Principal Investigator: Steven E. Sesnie

Agency/Organization: FWS-Fish and Wildlife Service

Branch or Dept: Region 2-Southwest Regional Office

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Co-Principal Investigator

Brett G. Dickson

Northern Arizona University

School of Earth Sciences & Environmental Sustainability

Co-Principal Investigator

Thomas D. Sisk

Northern Arizona University

School of Earth Sciences & Environmental Sustainability

Federal Fiscal Representative

Paul H. Stout

BLM-Bureau of Land Management

Arizona State Office

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network









Yuma Field Office




Kingman Field Office




Lake Havasu Field Office

Project Deliverables

Final Report view or print

("Results presented in JFSP Final Reports may not have been peer-reviewed and should be interpreted as tentative until published in a peer-reviewed source.")

  ID Type Title
view or print   3576 Journal Article Ecological Modelling
view or print   3577 Journal Article PLOS ONE
view or print   3578 Journal Article Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sesning
view or print   3633 Journal Article International Journal of Wildland Fire
view or print   3634 Journal Article Ecological applications
view or print   338 MS Thesis Landscape-scale models and maps of fire risk and connectivity in the lower Sonoran Desert
view or print   7326 Training Session Progress Report 2013
view or print   4179 Training Session Progress Report 2011
view or print   7262 Training Session Progress Report 2012

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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