It has been 40 years since Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, in southwestern Washington, near the Oregon border. Fifty-seven people lost their lives in the disaster, and huge swaths of the surrounding forest were leveled.
Both before and after the eruption, Landsat satellites were taking regular observations of the area, and their data is being used to study how forests recover from a very large disturbance. Sean Healey is a research ecologist with the Rocky Mountain Research Service, United States Forest Service. Along with his colleague Zhiqiang Yang, Sean has been studying the forests in the area to determine how the structure of the forest changes with disturbances. He is interested in knowing the changes in carbon stocks and the dynamics of forest recovery.
Sean and Zhiqiang have used Landsat data to create predictions of the percent tree cover as the trees and other vegetation regrows. The Landsat Program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Landsat satellites have been consistently gathering data about our planet since 1972. They continue to improve and expand this unparalleled record of Earth’s changing landscapes for the benefit of all.