NASA Earth Observation System Helps Restore the Threatened Plumleaf Azalea

The MSFC DEVELOP team collected its own field data using a Trimble JunoSB data logger and located 540 plumleaf azaleas within the Providence Canyon Conservation Park in Georgia. Relationships between in-situ data points were analyzed through a geospatial technique of Ordinary Kriging, which uses a linear combination of weights at known points to estimate the value at unknown points. Plumleaf azaleas were found predominantly around the canyons which are located in the Northeast quadrant of the park.

The MSFC DEVELOP team collected its own field data using a Trimble JunoSB data logger and located 540 plumleaf azaleas within the Providence Canyon Conservation Park in Georgia. Relationships between in-situ data points were analyzed through a geospatial technique of Ordinary Kriging, which uses a linear combination of weights at known points to estimate the value at unknown points. Plumleaf azaleas were found predominantly around the canyons which are located in the Northeast quadrant of the park.

Team Location: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Authors: Michelle Foreman, Katie Campbell, Semiha Caliskan, Danielle Keyes, Kevin Cowart, Steve Padgett-Vasquez

Advisors/Science Mentors: Dr. Jeff Luvall, Dr. Donna Burnett, Joy Joyner

Abstract: The plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium) is an extremely rare ornamental flowering shrub that is only known to exist along the Middle Chattahoochee Watershed located on the Georgia-Alabama State line. The sub-genus pentanthera (common name azalea) is the Georgia state wildflower. Twelve known native azalea species also can be found in the state of Georgia. Providence Canyon State Conservation Park is home to the largest population of R. prunifolium in the world. A unique ecological environment there allows an abundance of azaleas to thrive. In the 1800s, many large (>60m) canyons were rapidly formed from erosion caused by deforestation and aggressive agricultural practices which lead to ideal growing conditions for R. prunifolium. The Marshall Space Flight Center DEVELOP Team has partnered with the Providence Canyon State Conservation Park and Thomas University to explore how NASA Earth Observing Systems (EOS) can be used to study the environmental factors that make R. prunifolium thrive in these canyons. A remote sensing algorithm using short wave infrared bands (SWIR) from Terra’s ASTER sensor has successfully extrapolated the Providence Sand formations in the canyon, a known habitat for R. prunifolium. These findings will facilitate R. prunifolium restoration efforts by identifying other areas of exposed Providence Sand formations. Providence Canyon State Conservation Park will be aided by this research in fulfilling part of its resource management plan.

Video transcripts available here.