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An Assessment of Snow Avalanche Paths and Forest Dynamics Using Ikonos Satellite Data


Walsh, Stephen J; .; Weiss, Daniel J.; Butler, David R.; & Malanson, George P. (2004). An Assessment of Snow Avalanche Paths and Forest Dynamics Using Ikonos Satellite Data. Geocarto International, 19(2), 85-93.


Ikonos panchromatic and multispectral satellite data were acquired in October 2000 and August 2002 for a test area along US Highway 2, the southern border of Glacier National Park (GNP), Montana, USA. The research goals were to map snow avalanche paths and to characterize vegetation patterns in selected paths for longitudinal (i.e., source, track, and runout) and transverse (i.e., inner, flanking, outer) zones as part of a study of forest dynamics and nutrient flux from paths into terrestrial and aquatic systems. In some valleys, as much as 50 percent of the area may
be covered by snow avalanche paths, and as such, serve as an important carbon source servicing terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Snow avalanches move woody debris down-slope by snapping, tipping, trimming, and excavating branches, limbs, and trees, and by injuring and scaring trees that remain in-place. Further, snow avalanches alter the vegetation structure on paths through secondary plant succession of disturbed areas. Contrast and edge enhancements, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), and the Tasseled Cap greenness and wetness transformations were used to examine vegetation patterns in selected paths that were affected by high magnitude snow avalanches during the winter of 2001-2002. Using image transects organized in longitudinal patterns in paths and in forests, and transects arranged in transverse patterns across the sampled paths, the Tasseled Cap transforms (and NDVI values) were plotted and assessed. Preliminary results suggest that NDVI patterns are different for paths and forests, and Tasseled Cap greenness and wetness patterns are different for longitudinal and transverse zones that describe the morphology of snow avalanche paths. The differentiation of paths from the background forest and the characterization of paths by morphometric zones through remote sensing has implications for mapping forest disturbances and dynamics over time and for large geographic areas and for modeling nutrient flux in terrestrial and aquatic systems.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Geocarto International


Walsh, Stephen J
Weiss, Daniel J.
Butler, David R.
Malanson, George P.