Authors: Melissa Oguamanam, Neil Garrett, Benjamyn Ward, Jamal West
Mentors/Advisers (affiliation): Dr. Jeffrey Masek (GSFC), Frederick Policelli (GSFC), Gerasimos Michalitsianos (GSFC, Science Systems and Applications Incorporated)
Team Location: Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
Abstract: Forests provide many ecosystem services such as animal habitat, decreased soil erosion, carbon storage, climate regulation, and watershed protection. In particular, West African tropical rain forests have been identified as a biodiversity hotspot, consisting of at least 20 primate species and 9,000 vascular plant species. However, only about 15 percent of its original forest cover is left, as deforestation is a major problem in West African countries. In Ghana, for example, many forests are being destroyed due to slash-and-burn agriculture. As a result, the overall West African regional forest cover is extremely fragmented, which puts the well-being of forest ecosystems in danger. With outdated online West African forest inventories and field surveys, there is a need for better monitoring of the recent forest dynamics and agricultural burning in the region as a whole, using the latest tools in remote-sensing technology to supplement current management practices. Thus, the objective of the project was to examine the link between forest deforestation and agricultural burning in West Africa. Using Ghana for a preliminary case study, Landsat satellite imagery was acquired for dry season years 2002, 2007, and 2012 for 5-year disturbance comparisons of the country. To generate the forest disturbance products, an automated forest disturbance index methodology was compiled in Environment for Visualizing Images (ENVI)/Interactive Data Language (IDL) to quantify deforestation and regrowth rates for Ghana. MODIS Burned Area and Active Fire products were then used to assess connections between the fire dynamics from agricultural burning to forest cover. Findings revealed recent deforestation hotspots, regrowth areas, and impacts of agricultural fires on forest ecosystems in Ghana. The results of the project established collaborative efforts among West African forest managers, farmers, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) scientists to supplement forest field surveys with NASA satellite imagery and support efforts in creating more eco-friendly agroforestry systems in the region.