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Posted on April 3rd, 2018

Our Changing Landscape – Tonto National Forest

In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with a time series of medium resolution RapidEye satellite imagery. The RapidEye archive dates back to late 2008 and already contains more than 14 billion square kilometers of data. In March, we checked out the construction of a championship-level golf course in Michigan, and this month we stay in the USA with a look at the blooming of wildflowers in Tonto National Forest, Arizona.

Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color RapidEye imagery collected over Tonto National Forest on March 10, April 22, May 15, June 16 and December 19, 2017. In this animation, you can see the progression of the seasons, with winter forest gaps giving way to green hills in the fall. There is a distinct purple tone in the May and June images however it is unclear if that is due to flowers blooming on the forest floor or perhaps due to the color of the rock substrate below the trees. Either way, it is an interesting animation! (Images Courtesy: © Planet 2018)

The RapidEye Constellation

RapidEye is a constellation of five 5-meter medium resolution satellites each offering five spectral bands of information. The RapidEye constellation offers daily revisits to every location on the planet with a huge footprint that is 77-km wide. The data is priced competitively with a starting cost of $1.28 per square kilometer for all five spectral bands – academics do receive discounts. RapidEye adds a fifth band, the red edge, to the ‘traditional’ multispectral set of blue, green, red and near-infrared (NIR). The additional spectral data in the red edge band allows users to extract more useful land ‘information’ than can be from traditional 4-band imagery sources. When RapidEye imagery is ordered as a Level 3A Orthorectified product, images from multiple dates are extremely well registered, making it the ideal data source for Our Changing Landscape.

Blooming of Wildflowers in Tonto National Forest

Tonto National Forest covers some 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of extremely rugged and mostly unpopulated land in south-central Arizona, including parts of the Superstition, Mazatzal and Pinal Mountains. Bordering the Phoenix suburbs to the south and west, Tonto can be considered an urban forest but do not get the impression it is small as it is the 5th largest forest in USA. Ranging greatly in elevations from about 1,300 to 7,900 feet (400 to 2,400 meters), this forest covers a wide variety of biomes, including high-elevation deserts, pine forests, river basins and scrublands. With nearly 6 million visitors per year, Tonto is one of our most frequented national parks.

Tonto National Forest is also an ecological masterpiece. The forest is home to 400 plus species of vertebrate animals, including 21 endangered species and a slew of threatened ones. Covering a huge range of biomes, the forest is also home to a plethora of plant species though no definitive number could be found in the research for this paper. That said, the National Park Service has set aside a small portion (about 2 square miles or 4.5 square kilometers) of the national forest and designated it as a national monument given the diversity of plant and animal species calling the area home. In Tonto National Monument, scientists have studied and categorized the plants and animals present given its ecological significance – you can read about the plant species here. And it is the plants of Tonto that are the interest of this article given the mark on the landscape they can leave. Specifically, this article about the bloom of desert wildflower in the park on May 8, 2017 caught our interest; so it is time to turn to the 5-meter RapidEye archive to hopefully check out the wildflower blooms in Tonto National Forest in 2017 – enjoy!

If you would like to find out more about using RapidEye for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at or (303) 993-3863.


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