Responding to Large-Scale Forest Damage in an Alpine Environment with Remote Sensing, Machine Learning, and Web-GIS
This paper reports a semi-automated workflow for detection and quantification of forest damage from windthrow in an Alpine region, in particular from the Vaia storm in October 2018. A web-GIS platform allows to select the damaged area by drawing polygons; several vegetation indices (VIs) are automatically calculated using remote sensing data (Sentinel-2A) and tested to identify the more suitable ones for quantifying forest damage using cross-validation with ground-truth data. Results show that
... Results show that the mean value of NDVI and NDMI decreased in the damaged areas, and have a strong negative correlation with severity. RGI has an opposite behavior in contrast with NDVI and NDMI, as it highlights the red component of the land surface. In all cases, variance of the VI increases after the event between 0.03 and 0.15. Understorey not damaged from the windthrow, if consisting of 40% or more of the total cover in the area, undermines significantly the sensibility of the VIs to detecting and predicting severity. Using aggregational statistics (average and standard deviation) of VIs over polygons as input to a machine learning algorithm, i.e., Random Forest, results in severity prediction with regression reaching a root mean square error (RMSE) of 9.96, on a severity scale of 0–100, using an ensemble of area averages and standard deviations of NDVI, NDMI, and RGI indices. The results show that combining more than one VI can significantly improve the estimation of severity, and web-GIS tools can support decisions with selected VIs. The reported results prove that Sentinel-2 imagery can be deployed and analysed via web-tools to estimate forest damage severity and that VIs can be used via machine learning for predicting severity of damage, with careful evaluation of the effect of understorey in each situation.