Applying satellite imagery to triage assessment of ecosystem health

TitleApplying satellite imagery to triage assessment of ecosystem health
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1999
AuthorsEve M.D., Whitford WG, Havstad K
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Date Published1999
Accession NumberJRN00269
ARIS Log Number105738

Considerable evidence documents that certain changes in vegetation and soil result in irreversibly degraded rangeland ecosystems. We used Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) imagery to develop calibration patterns of change in the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) over the growing season for selected sites for which we had ground data and historical data characterizing these sites as irreversibly degraded. We used the NDVI curves for these training sites to classify and map the irreversibly degraded rangelands in southern New Mexico. We composited images into four year blocks: 1988-1991, 1989-1992, and 1990-1993. The overlap in pixel classified as irreversibly degraded ranged from 42.6% to 84.3% in year block comparisons. Quantitative data on vegetation composition and cover were collected at 13 sites within a small portions of the study area. Wide coverage reconnaissance of boundaries between vegetation types was also conducted for comparisons with year block maps. The year block 1988-1991 provided the most accurate delineation of degraded areas. The rangelands of southern New Mexico experienced above average precipitation from 1990-1993. The above average precipitation resulted in spatial variable productivity of ephemeral weedy plants on the training sites and degraded rangelands which resulted in much smaller areas classified as irreversibly degraded. We selected imagery for a single year, 1989, which was characterized by the absence of spring annual plant production in order to eliminate the confounding effect of reflectance from annual weeds. That image analysis classified more than 20% of the rangelands as irreversibly degraded because areas with shrub-grass mosaic were included in the degraded classification. The single year image included more than double the area classified as irreversibly degraded by the year blocks. AVHRR imagery can be used to make triage assessment of irreversibly degraded rangeland but such assessment requires understanding productivity patterns and variability across the landscapes of the region and careful selection of the years from which imagery is chosen.