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Team explores forest-monitoring data to support the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Skyline image of smoke across U.S. Eastern forest
Courtesy of Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center

NCEI continues its six-year relationship with the NASA DEVELOP Program with a team of early-career scientists and university students. This nationwide program utilizes NASA Earth science satellite data to address diverse, environmental issues impacting communities. At the DEVELOP North Carolina location, the teams tend to focus primarily on climate applications and incorporate climate data housed at NCEI.

The DEVELOP North Carolina team is working with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) Natural Resources program and the USDA Forest Service Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center to detect year-to-year changes in the forest canopy composition of a tribe-purchased land trust covering more than 50,000 acres in western North Carolina.

To detect these changes, the team used observations from Sentinel-2 and Landsat 5 and 8 missions and aerial LiDAR. This project will also explore the feasibility of using high-resolution, LiDAR-derived canopy height data from the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) satellite mission to supplement aerial LiDAR measurements. Additionally, the team applied vegetation indices derived from NASA Earth observations to measure changes in forest health over time.

Having up-to-date and comprehensive maps of forest canopy composition will help the EBCI Natural Resources program monitor recovery after major drought and wildlife events, identify areas of degraded forest health, and assist in planning effective restoration efforts.

Team Member Background

  • Chloe Schneider, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She double-majored in Environmental Science and Geography with a minor in Information Science. In the summer of 2019, Schneider participated in a National Science Foundation-funded research experience investigating the movement of carbon dioxide in the environment outside of Quito, Ecuador. 
  • Travis Newton, a current North Carolina State University graduate student in the Masters of Geospatial Information Science and Technology program. His undergraduate degree was with Arizona State University in Environmental Social Sciences. Newton spent 20 years in the U.S. Army with a focus in Southeast Asia and Oceania. His passion for the region conveyed to his GIS studies where he visited the Cook Islands on a mapping internship for tourism and coastal analysis. He continues this work using NOAA LiDAR data in American Samoa and Guam, determining the land loss from sea rise and plate tectonic shifts.
  • Richard Murray, a graduate of Millsaps College. He majored in Biology. Murray participated in the Spring 2020 NASA DEVELOP Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center looking at air pollution sources impacting the Puget Sound area. As a former Environmental Specialist at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Murray has worked to better understand policy regulations and their effectiveness in protecting wildlife.
  • William Goode, a graduate of Davidson College. He majored in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Natural Science. While at Davidson, Goode also studied data science and its intersections with bioinformatics, ecology, and extinction. Goode was previously involved in research in South Mountains State Park of North Carolina after the Chestnut Knob Fire of 2016, investigating how slope aspect and species composition affected the severity of the burn across the park.

In addition to the four-person project team at the DEVELOP NCEI location, Julie Sorfleet is an Assistant Geoinformatics Fellow with the NASA DEVELOP Program. She is aiding DEVELOP teams across locations to manage remote sensing data and the release of written scripts and codes to project partners.

  • Julie Sorfleet, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles. She double majored in Geography and Spanish with a minor in Geospatial Information Systems and Technologies. Sorfleet participated in NASA DEVELOP at Arizona State University, where she worked on assessing land surface temperature and greenness across multiple cities in the United States. Sorfleet also spent four months as a GIS Technician for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe in Oregon where she mapped tribal lands and timber operations and supported the creation of a tribal unmanned aerial vehicle program.