Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 15, Issue 9, pp 1851–1867 | Cite as

Using multispectral landsat and sentinel-2 satellite data to investigate vegetation change at Mount St. Helens since the great volcanic eruption in 1980

  • Katharina Teltscher
  • Fabian Ewald FassnachtEmail author


Long-term analyses of vegetation succession after catastrophic events are of high interest for an improved understanding of succession dynamics. However, in many studies such analyses were restricted to plot-based measurements. Contrarily, spatially continuous observations of succession dynamics over extended areas and time-periods are sparse. Here, we applied a change vector analysis (CVA) to investigate vegetation succession dynamics at Mount St. Helens after the great volcanic eruption in 1980 using Landsat. We additionally applied a supervised random forest classification using Sentinel-2 data to map the currently prevailing vegetation types. Change vector analysis was performed with the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and the urban index (UI) for three subsequent decades after the eruption as well as for the whole observation time between 1984 and 2016. The influence of topography on the current vegetation distribution was examined by comparing altitude, slope angles and aspect values of vegetation classes derived by the random forest classification. Wilcox- Rank-Sum test was applied to test for significant differences between topographic properties of the vegetation classes inside and outside of the areas affected by the eruption. For the full time period, a total area of 516 km2 was identified as re-vegetated, whereas the area and magnitude of re-growing vegetation decreased during the three decades and migrated closer to the volcanic crater. Vegetation losses were mainly observed in regions unaffected by the eruption and related mostly to timber harvesting. The vegetation type classification reached a high overall accuracy of approximately 90%. 36 years after the eruption, coniferous and deciduous trees have established at formerly devastated areas dominating with a proportion of 66%, whereas shrubs are more abundant in riparian zones. Sparse vegetation dominates at regions very close to the crater. Elevation was found to have a great influence on the reestablishment and distribution of the vegetation classes within the devastated areas showing in almost all cases significant differences in altitude distribution. Slope was less important for the different classes - only representing significantly higher values for meadows, whereas aspect seems to have no notable influence on the reestablishment of vegetation at Mount St. Helens. We conclude that major vegetation succession dynamics after catastrophic events can be assessed and characterized over large areas from freely available remote sensing data and hence contribute to an improved understanding of succession dynamics.


Mount St. Helens Vegetation change Remote sensing Change vector analysis (CVA) Supervised classification Topography Density-plots 


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We would like to acknowledge the two anonymous reviewers who helped to improve an earlier version of this manuscript. We are furthermore grateful to NASA and USGS for providing free Landsat data and ESA for providing free Sentinel-2 data.

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Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Geography and GeoecologyKarlsruhe Institute of TechnologyKarlsruheGermany

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