In the Line of Fire: Exposing the Vulnerable in Appalachia

EarthzineDevelop Summer 2017, DEVELOP Virtual Poster Session

This article is a part of the NASA DEVELOP’s Summer 2017 Virtual Poster Session. For more articles like these, click here

Project Team: Southern Appalachia Disasters II

Team Location: University of Georgia ‰- Athens, Georgia

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Amanda AragÌn, Ruth Buck, Christopher Cameron, Jayanta Ganguly, Matthew Hevert, Holly Hutcheson, Caren Remillard, David Rickless, Yangjiaxin Wei


Dr. Marguerite Madden (University of Georgia, Center for Geospatial Research), Dr. Sergio Bernardes (University of Georgia, Center for Geospatial Research)

Fire vulnerability derived from Landsat 8 NDVI/NDMI, Terra ASTER elevation, and Terra MODIS phenoregions acquired in October 2016, 1999, and 2012, respectively. Image Credit: Southern Appalachia Disasters II Team


Wildfires in the southeastern U.S. are understood less than those in other portions of the nation. In October and November 2016, more than 60 individual wildfires ignited among seven states in the Southern Appalachian region. These fires damaged hundreds of buildings, caused numerous power outages, and resulted in fatalities. These unusually destructive events highlight the need to improve awareness of fire susceptibility and risk in the southeastern U.S. The U.S. Forest Service requires a thorough understanding of wildfire vulnerability, damage, and recovery to effectively help local communities respond to and prepare for these events. The University of Georgia NASA DEVELOP team partnered with the Forest Service Southern Research Station to assess vegetation dynamics before and after the 2016 wildfire events, focusing on Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. This was accomplished by utilizing Landsat 8 OLI, Terra ASTER, and Terra MODIS data to evaluate land cover changes from October to December 2016 and assess the severity of these fires. In addition, this project incorporated demographic data to examine the association between fire risk and under-managed lands, such as heirs’ properties, and to construct a model of social vulnerability to wildland fire hazards in the study area. The results of this project provided researchers at the Forest Service with an increased understanding of how property ownership and community management practices can affect future wildfires, as well as how the spatial distribution of socioeconomic variables affects residents’ ability to adapt and recover.

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