Made-in-Saanich site maps 25 years of forest fires

Navigate a quarter century of Canadian logging on easy-to-use map

Reserach scientists Mike Wulder and Joanne White

A lot happened in Canada during the five-year span of 1985 to 1989.

For instance, that’s how long moviegoers waited to see the sequel for Back to the Future. While fans pined for more of suburban skateboarder Marty McFly, it was during that span that most of the tree canopy came down for Sunnymead, the Saanich-like version of McFly’s Hill Valley suburb.

Thanks to a new website built by local research scientists Mike Wulder and Joanne White at the Pacific Forestry Centre, it’s become just as easy to track the history of logging in Canada between 1985 and 2011 as it is to rent a 1980s Michael J. Fox movie online.

It’s worth knowing that visitors to Forests.foundryspatial.com have the ability to manage trillions of pixels with the flick of the mouse. And the implications are massive as the project has compiled tens of thousands of satellite images from 1984 and 2012. In that span, it documents all occurrences of logging and forest fires, which is the most detailed depiction of forest change at the national scale that has ever been generated for Canada, White says.

“The site, in short, is a lot of science guided by usable pictures,” White says. “It captures human impact on 25 years of Canadian forests.”

Initially, the type of images White and Wulder used for the project were privy to very few. But the 2008 release of satellite images by NASA’s Landsat satellite program, which originally dates back to 1972, and the U.S. Geological Survey agency, made the project a reality.

“By releasing the data it changed the way we use it,” said Wulder, who gained preferential access as a member of NASA’s Landsat team.

Managing the data was the true challenge. It meant creating rules within the software that would sift through the thousands of images so that White and Wulder wouldn’t have to.

Clouds, in particular, were a part of the problem. The satellites would only fly over certain paths of Canada so many times in a year, so the software was designed to pick out the “clear” images.

Each pixel is 30 by 30 metres, or about the size of a baseball diamond.

That size is key, as anything smaller is too much detail. Anything bigger, and you lose the detail to recognize significant incidents.

In all, Canada is 1.4 billion hectares in size. About 600 million hectares is forestry ecosystems, including lakes and wetlands. Some researchers remove the water and wetlands, which leaves about 348 million hectares of forested land.

To date, a little less than 10 per cent of the 348 million has been disturbed by fire and harvesting (the project does not monitor insect occurrences such as pine beetles), White said.

Then came the big problem: putting it all into a user-friendly website.

That job fell on Saanich-based GIS and web design company Foundry Spatial, who White and Wulder worked closely with. The result is visible at Forests.foundryspatial.com, and the data is in use by several key stakeholders. Among them is fellow PhD and research scientist at PFC Werner Kurz, who runs the National Forest Carbon Accounting System for Canada, a carbon accounting program.

“The site gathers 700 million points per year and makes it displayable online,” Wulder said. “As you drill down, you can see more data as you focus, it leverages the imagery as you zoom in.”

Now, visitors can see forest disturbances that took place even in the most isolated and remote areas. For example, the layperson may find it interesting to see just how many hundreds of forest fires are left to burn in Canada’s remote areas each year, such as the extreme north. If it’s not a forest pegged for logging, preservation or near to urban populations, it’s left alone.

Researchers can also measure how quickly Canada’s forests are recovering after harvesting, wildfires and other disturbances.

The two researchers are slowly pulling back from a full-time commitment on the site but will continue to manage it, with plans to update it.

White and Wulder were honoured by the Canadian Journal of Remote Sensing for their paper on the project, The Landsat observation record of Canada: 1972 to 2012.

Visit the site at forests.foundryspatial.com

 

 

Just Posted

Victoria teen killed on field trip near Sooke

Second youth also injured in falling tree incident at Camp Barnard

Scorpion gives birth at Victoria Bug Zoo after hitching ride in woman’s luggage

A Vancouver woman inadvertently brought the animal home from a trip to Cuba

Oak Bay double murder trial: Blood splatter analyst says no shoe prints found in unit

RCMP analyst testifies to smears, fingermarks, ‘swipe and wipe’ patterns around apartment

Final bell could sound for project that allows Victoria grads to dress in style

Magic Wand must find space to store its prom attire for Greater Victoria students by end of June

Man accused of Brentwood Bay murder appears in court

Alan Chapman tells judge he wants next court appearance to be “as far away as possible”

VIDEO: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ to be re-released with new footage

‘Avatar’ holds global box office record at $2.788 billion, while ‘Endgame’ stands at $2.743 billion…

POLL: Do you support the government’s decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion?

The federal government announced Tuesday its approval for the Trans Mountain pipeline… Continue reading

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of June 18

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Elias Pettersson wins Calder Trophy as NHL’s top rookie

Vancouver forward first Canuck to win award since Pavel Bure in 1992

FVRD chair calls B.C. incineration plan for Philippines waste ‘disturbing’

Metro Vancouver ‘uniquely capable’ of safely disposing of waste coming back to Canada, say officials

VIDEO: Acknowledging skeptics, finance minister vows to build Trans Mountain project

Bill Morneau said he recognizes ‘huge amount of anxiety’ in Calgary over future of oil and gas sector

Shovels could be in the ground on Trans Mountain by September, CEO says

Ian Anderson points to weeks likely required for NEB to reinstate 2016 regulatory record

RCMP allows officers to grow beards

Members can now wear beards and goatees, as long as they’re neatly groomed

Girl, 10, poisoned by carbon monoxide at B.C. campsite could soon return home

Lucille Beaurain died and daughter Micaela Walton, 10, was rushed to B.C. Children’s Hospital on May 18

Most Read