Forest damage caused by heavy wet snow accumulation in the canopy is the second most important abiotic forest disturbance agent in Nordic conifer stands after wind. The extent and frequency of snow damage in the future climate in the Nordic region is a major uncertainty. Few mechanistic models of snow damage risk to trees exist that could support forest management scenario analysis and decision making. We propose a snow damage risk model consisting of a numerical weather prediction-based snow accumulation model for forest canopies and a mechanistic critical snow load model. Snow damage probability predictions were validated on snow breakage data from the winters of 2016 and 2018 covering 3.5 million individual trees in south-eastern Norway derived from pre- and post-damage aerial laser scanning campaigns. The proposed model demonstrated satisfactory damage and no-damage class separation with an AUC of 0.72 and 0.77 in Norway spruce and Scots pine, respectively, and an F1 score of 0.7 in conifers taller than 10 m that suffered moderate stem breakage. The model achieved a classification accuracy that is comparable to that of statistical models but is simpler and requires fewer inputs.
We tested whether windthrow damage to Nordic conifer forest stands could be reliably detected as canopy height decrease between a pre-storm LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) digital surface model (DSM) and a photogrammetric DSM derived from a post-storm WorldView-3 stereo pair. The post-storm ground reference data consisted of field and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) observations of windthrow combined with no-damage areas collected by visual interpretation of the available very high resolution (VHR) satellite imagery. We trained and tested a thresholding model using canopy height change as the sole predictor. We undertook a two-step accuracy assessment by (1) running k-fold cross-validation on the ground reference dataset and examining the effect of the potential imperfections in the ground reference data, and (2) conducting rigorous accuracy assessment of the classified map of the study area using an extended set of VHR imagery. The thresholding model produced accurate windthrow maps in dense, productive forest stands with a sensitivity of 96%, specificity of 71%, and Matthews correlation coefficient (MCC) over 0.7. However, in sparse and high elevation stands, the classification accuracy was poor. Despite certain collection challenges during the winter months in the Nordic region, we consider VHR stereo satellite imagery to be a viable source of forest canopy height information and sufficiently accurate to map windthrow disturbance in forest stands of high to moderate density.