National Park Service

North Coast and Cascades Network (NCCN)

Landscape Dynamics Monitoring

Map of North Cascades NP study area showing landscape changes 1985-2009 by change type
Map of North Cascades National Park Complex study area showing landscape changes from 1985 to 2009 by change type

Resource Briefs

Monitoring Reports

Protocol for Landsat-based Monitoring of Landscape Dynamics

For more information contact: Catharine Copass


From year to year, any number of events can alter landscapes in and around North Coast and Cascades Network parks, including landslides, fires, clearcuts, and human development. These landscape changes occur at a wide variety of scales of time, extent, and magnitude, from a small flood that scours a riparian zone to a large fire that burns thousands of acres. Regardless of size and severity, each event can have lasting effects on the rest of the ecosystem, which include changes in hydrologic regimes, nutrient cycling, water quality, distribution of exotics, and quality of wildlife habitat. The Landscape Dynamics monitoring program detects and maps where these landscape changes occur, how severe they are, and how long they last. The goal of this program is to document current rates of landscape change providing a baseline against which human-induced change can be compared in the future.

Parks Monitored

Monitoring Objectives

The landscape dynamics monitoring program uses satellite imagery, Geographic Information System (GIS), and statistical analysis to evaluate landscape changes in and around network parks. The program tracks the size, duration, and intensity of each landscape change. The specific objectives are to:

  1. Detect and map landscape changes that are larger than 0.8 ha (2 ac) resulting from an avalanche, clearing, development, fire, mass movement, progressive defoliation, riparian flooding, or tree toppling.
  2. Determine trends in the size, magnitude, location, and spatial distribution of each landscape change category.


Each year, Landsat images undergo analysis using a program called Landsat-based Detection of Trends in Disturbance and Recovery (LandTrendr) to detect new areas that have changed compared to the previous year. Individual patches larger than 0.8 ha (2 acres) and where at least 10 percent of the vegetation has been removed are delineated. Next, the patches are labeled with a change agent, such as fire, mass movement, clearcut, or riparian flooding. To create the label, a statistical model combines information about the patch’s shape, size, and location on the landscape with the information about the event’s duration and magnitude from the Landsat images. For example, a square-shaped patch outside the park boundary in which a tall forest canopy has been removed and only bare ground remains is likely to be a clearcut. Maps of the change areas are created for each park every three years.

Management Applications

  1. Provide park managers with information about landscape changes that can be used to improve the manner in which park managers allocate funding and maintain existing or locate new park facilities, as well as feed into adaptive management strategies for park resources in the face of climate change.
  2. Provide information that will allow the complex relationships between changing temperature and precipitation regimes and landscape dynamics in the NCCN to be better understood.
  3. Provide a landscape context for changes documented by the other NCCN monitoring projects. The results from landscape monitoring will aid in the interpretation of detected trends in the health of parks’ terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
  4. Provide a prompt mechanism for updating two of the NCCN’s major inventories: the Landform Inventory and the Vegetation Inventory.
  5. Serve as a trigger for site visits by park and network employees when natural, cultural or visitor resources are shown to be affected by a landscape change event, especially in remote areas that might not be frequently or otherwise easily accessed.


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Last Updated: December 30, 2016 Contact Webmaster