Remote sensing assessment of forest disturbance across complex mountainous terrain: The pattern and severity of impacts of tropical cyclone Yasi on Australian rainforests

Robinson I. Negrón-Juárez, Jeffrey Q. Chambers, George C. Hurtt, Bachir Annane, Stephen Cocke, Mark Powell, Michael Stott, Stephen Goosem, Daniel J. Metcalfe, Sassan S. Saatchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Topography affects the patterns of forest disturbance produced by tropical cyclones. It determines the degree of exposure of a surface and can alter wind characteristics. Whether multispectral remote sensing data can sense the effect of topography on disturbance is a question that deserves attention given the multi-scale spatial coverage of these data and the projected increase in intensity of the strongest cyclones. Here, multispectral satellite data, topographic maps and cyclone surface wind data were used to study the patterns of disturbance in an Australian rainforest with complex mountainous terrain produced by tropical cyclone Yasi (2011). The cyclone surface wind data (H*wind) was produced by the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (HRD/NOAA), and this was the first time that this data was produced for a cyclone outside of United States territory. A disturbance map was obtained by applying spectral mixture analyses on satellite data and presented a significant correlation with field-measured tree mortality. Our results showed that, consistent with cyclones in the southern hemisphere, multispectral data revealed that forest disturbance was higher on the left side of the cyclone track. The highest level of forest disturbance occurred in forests along the path of the cyclone track (±30°). Levels of forest disturbance decreased with decreasing slope and with an aspect facing off the track of the cyclone or away from the dominant surface winds. An increase in disturbance with surface elevation was also observed. However, areas affected by the same wind intensity presented increased levels of disturbance with increasing elevation suggesting that complex terrain interactions act to speed up wind at higher elevations. Yasi produced an important offset to Australia's forest carbon sink in 2010. We concluded that multispectral data was sensitive to the main effects of complex topography on disturbance patterns. High resolution cyclone wind surface data are needed in order to quantify the effects of topographic accelerations on cyclone related forest disturbances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5633-5649
Number of pages17
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2014


  • Complex mountainous terrain
  • Forest disturbance
  • Multispectral data
  • Tropical cyclones
  • Tropical rainforests

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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