‘Phragile’ Oasis: Phragmites in the Great Dismal Swamp

EarthzineDEVELOP Summer 2013 VPS, Original

Landsat 8 analysis depicting presence likelihood of phragmites australis, an invasive species, in the burn scar of the Lateral West fire in Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp.

Team Location: Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia
Lauren Makely (Old Dominion University)
Jessica Mitchum (George Mason University)
April Volke (Johns Hopkins University)
Valerie Linsinbigler (Christopher Newport University)
Kenton Ross, Ph.D. (NASA, DEVELOP National Science Advisor)
Past/Other Contributors:
Taylor Beard (Christopher Newport University)
DEVELOP Summer 2012 Great Dismal Swamp Health and Air Quality team (Langley Research Center)
Following the 2011 Lateral West Fire in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (GDSNWR), an outbreak of the invasive species phragmites australis was identified within the primary regrowth. Phragmites australis is an invasive plant species known for driving out native species that are natural food sources or shelter for wildlife within the swamps. Because phragmites grows so quickly, biodiversity is greatly reduced in areas of phragmites  growth.
Other coastal areas such as the Back Bay Nature Preserve of Virginia have experienced similar invasions of phragmites in recent years and have been using similar treatment methods as the GDSNWR, including pesticide sprays and prescribed burning. Using the hyperspectral Hyperion and multispectral Advanced Land Imager (ALI) sensors on board the Earth Observing 1 (EO-1) satellite and the Enhanced Thematic Mapper+ (ETM+) sensor on board the Landsat satellites, classification maps were created to quantify the area of phragmites before and after the 2011 Lateral West Fire.
Habitat suitability maps were created using the Maxent ecological forecasting model to identify areas at greater risk of phragmites invasion within the Great Dismal Swamp and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The Maxent model analyzes current incidences of phragmites and extrapolates where it may spread based on predicted future climate scenarios. These factors are based on climate forecasts published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). By giving parks a prediction of where the plants may spread, the parks can strengthen their mitigation practices before phragmites reaches these areas.

Return to the Summer 2013 VPS page.