Naked Eyes and Hyperspectral Images Build Fuel Maps in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

Naked Eyes and Hyperspectral Images Build Fuel Maps in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

As anybody with young family members in distant states or countries can tell you, children grow up fast. Without photographs, long-distance aunts, uncles, cousins who gather for holidays or reunions will miss the intervening changes that happen quickly in youthful relatives. A human life span is quick, a maximum of maybe a hundred years, and the quickest portion is infant to adult. Not so with the world we walk on. On many landscapes, it is hard to recognize changes taking place (barring major disturbances) that happen over great lengths of time. Hundreds of millions of years ago, continents collided, inland seas formed, land folded and faulted and fractured into the northeast to southwest trending range of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Geologic events, over a span no one could witness, created the diverse environments, landscapes, habitats, soils, aspects, elevations, weather patterns and disturbances we see there today. Erosion over millennia has worked over places, reducing those mountains just as it will the Rockies and Cascades. Geology is a long-running, mostly slow-moving story, with episodic jumps and jolts in the narrative. Without mapping and photographing and documenting, we can’t perceive creep along a fault line that occurs at a rate of two inches a year. Or compare the margin of this year’s glacial ice with that of, say, fifty or sixty years ago. By looking at vegetation maps, we can see the extent of forest cover, and perhaps discover a transition occurring from open canopy to a closed one, or even discern desertification spreading into formerly fertile lands. Before they are able to make informed plans, land managers must know what the conditions are.

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