Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Science in Geophysics



Major Advisor

Nancy F. Glenn, Ph.D.


T. Trevor Caughlin, Ph.D.


Dylan Mikesell, Ph.D.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License


The native vegetation communities in the sagebrush steppe, a semi-arid ecosystem type, are under threat from exotic annual grasses. Exotic annual grasses increase fire severity and frequency, decrease biodiversity, and reduce soil carbon storage amongst other ecosystem services. The invasion of exotic annual grasses is causing detrimental impacts to land use by eliminating forage for livestock and creating a huge economic cost from fire control and post-fire restoration. To combat invasion, land managers need to know what exotic annual grasses are present, where they are invading, and estimates of their biomass. Mapping exotic annual grasses is challenging because many areas in the sagebrush steppe are difficult to access; yet field measurements are the main method to identify and quantify their existence. In this study, we address this challenge by exploring the use of both landscape-scale and plot-scale observations with remote sensing. First, we use satellite imagery to map where exotic annual grasses are invading and identify the native species which are being encroached upon. Second, we investigate the use of fine-scale imagery for non-destructive measurements of biomass of exotic annual grasses.

Understanding the location of exotic annual grasses is important for restoration efforts, e.g. large swath (~100m) herbicide spraying. Restoration efforts are expensive and often ineffective in areas already dominated by exotic annual grasses. Early detection of exotic annual grasses in sagebrush and native grasses communities will increase the chances of effective ecosystem restoration. We used Sentinel-2 satellite imagery in Google Earth Engine, a cloud computing platform, to train a random forest (RF) machine learning algorithm to map vegetation in ~150,000 acres in the sagebrush steppe in southeast Idaho. The result is a classification map of vegetation (overall accuracy of 72%) and a map of percent cover of annual grass (R2 = 0.58). The combination of these two maps will allow land managers to target areas of restoration and make informed decisions about where to allow grazing.

In addition to knowing what exotic annual grasses exist and their percent cover, detailed information about their biomass is important for understanding fuel loads and forage quality. Structure from Motion (SfM) is a photogrammetry technique that uses digital images to develop 3-dimensional point clouds that can be transformed into volumetric measurements of biomass. The SfM technique has the potential to quantify biomass estimates across multiple plots while minimizing field work. We developed allometric equations relating SfM-derived volume (m3) to biomass (g/m2) for a study area in southeast Oregon. The resulting equation showed a positive relationship (R2 = 0.51) between the log transformed SfM-derived volume and log transformed biomass when litter was removed. This relationship shows promise in being upscaled to larger surveys using aerial platforms. This method can reduce the need for destructively harvesting biomass, and thus allow field work to cover a greater spatial extent. Ultimately, increasing spatial coverage for biomass will improve accuracy in quantifying fuel loads and carbon storage, providing insights to how these exotic plants are altering ecosystem services.