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Remote Sensing for Ecology and ConservationA Handbook of Techniques$
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Ned Horning, Julie A. Robinson, Eleanor J. Sterling, Woody Turner, and Sacha Spector

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199219940

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199219940.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 03 December 2021

Disturbances: Fires and Floods

Disturbances: Fires and Floods

(p.242) 9 Disturbances: Fires and Floods
Remote Sensing for Ecology and Conservation

Ned Horning

Julie A. Robinson

Eleanor J. Sterling

Woody Turner

Sacha Spector

Oxford University Press

From space, much of Indonesia appeared to be on fire. One of the strongest El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events of the twentieth century had generated drought conditions in the fall of 1997 and early 1998. These conditions, probably in concert with the impacts of logging, resulted in what has been called the largest fire disaster ever observed (Siegert et al. 2001). The powerful 1997–8 ENSO also led to extensive fires in Amazonia. The humid tropics, home to Earth’s greatest concentrations of biodiversity, had long been thought to be fire resistant due to high-moisture levels in the leaf litter and the humidity of the understory. The massive fires of 1997–8 increased our understanding of the complex interactions between fire and humid tropical forests. Since the late 1990s, a new synthesis has emerged linking ENSO events, drought, logging, and fire in the wet tropics. This synthesis has sought to understand the impacts of these phenomena on tropical environments and also explain the role humans play in tropical fires and fire impacts. Remote sensing has been an important tool in forging this new synthesis of understanding. For example, NOAA’s workhorse AVHRR sensor, the SeaWiFS sensor, and NASA’s TOMS instrument were among the satellite tools available to provide imagery of the dramatic events of 1997–8. In this chapter, we discuss the potential for remote sensing to detect, monitor, and increase our understanding of certain disturbance mechanisms affecting ecosystems. We focus on fires and floods, adding shorter sections at the end on two other drivers of disturbance, volcanoes and dams. A key challenge lies in understanding the degree to which logging, even selective logging, is interacting with periodic droughts to drive fires in humid forests. Are humid tropical forests essentially immune to fire unless disturbed by human logging, or have they always been subject to climate-induced droughts and subsequent fires? The answer is crucial in determining our impact on these great storehouses of biodiversity and holds major implications for forest management. Part of the answer lies in looking backward in time.

Keywords:   Alaska, Bezymianny volcano, California, Dartmouth Flood Observatory, Google Earth, Ikhana, Jason satellite, Lidar, Malaysia

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