40 Years of Forest Recovery

  • Released Monday, May 18, 2020

The long record of Landsat data (since 1972) is helping scientists Sean Healey and Zhiqiang Yang of the Rocky Mountain Research Station (U.S. Forest Service) study the long-term impact of the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens. With Landsat data for 8 years before the eruption, and 40 years since, they have calculated the percent tree cover for each year, watching as vegetation grows back.

Music: The Waiting Room by Sam Dodson [PRS], published by Atmosphere Music Ltd [PRS]; Inner Strength by Brava [SGAE], Dsilence [SGAE], Input [SGAE] , Output [SGAE], published by El Murmullo Sarao [SGAE], Universal Sarao [SGAE], Some Assembly by Kyle Fredrickson [ASCAP] and Taylor Alexander Locke [BMI], published by Killer Tracks [BMI], Soundcast Music [SESAC], and Light From Dark by Adam Salkeld [PRS] and Neil Pollard [PRS], published by Atmosphere Music Ltd [PRS], all available from Universal Production Music.

Complete transcript available.

Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel.

It has been forty 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 levelled. 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 State 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 interesteed 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.


Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Release date

This page was originally published on Monday, May 18, 2020.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:44 PM EDT.


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