Ryan Guild, Dr. Xander Wang and other co-author have recently published a study on tracking deforestation, drought, and fire occurrence in Kutai National Park, Indonesia in the Remote Sensing journal.
The dry lowland and mangrove forests of Kutai National Park (KNP) in Indonesia provide invaluable ecosystem services to local human populations (>200,000 in number), serve as immense carbon sinks to recapture anthropogenic emissions, and safeguard habitats for thousands of wildlife species including the critically endangered Northeast Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus morio). With recent reports of ongoing illegal logging and large-scale wildfires within this National Park, we sought to leverage the extensive catalogue and processing power of Google Earth Engine to track the rates and influences of forest loss within KNP over various time periods since 1997. We present estimates of forest loss from the Hansen Global Forest Change v1.9 dataset (2000–2021) which detected a loss of 15% (272 km2) of forest cover within KNP since 2000, half of which (137 km2) coincided with the El Niño-induced wildfires of 2015–2016. Using the MCD64A1 C6.1 MODIS dataset, we found significant spatial overlap between burned area and forest loss detections during the 2015–2016 period but identified considerable omissions in the burned area dataset over smallholder farms within KNP. We discuss the implications of deforestation in areas of primary orangutan habitat and how patterns of forest loss have influenced drought and fire dynamics within KNP. Finally, we compare time-series estimates of precipitation, the ENSO index, burned area, and forest loss to demonstrate that fire risk within KNP depends largely—but not exclusively—on drought severity, and that rates of non-fire (gradual) and fire-related (extreme) forest loss threaten the remaining forests of this National Park.