Drought and Vegetation Stress Monitoring in Portugal using Satellite Data

Gouveia C., Trigo R.M., DaCamara C.C.
Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 9, 1-11

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Remote sensed information on vegetation and soil moisture, namely the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and the Soil Water Index (SWI), is employed to monitor the spatial extent, severity and persistence of drought episodes over Continental Portugal, from 1999 to 2006. The severity of a given drought episode is assessed by evaluating the cumulative impact over time of drought conditions on vegetation. Special attention is given to the drought episodes that have occurred in the last decade, i.e., 1999, 2002 and particularly the major event of 2005. During both the 1999 and 2005 drought episodes negative anomalies of NDVI are observed over large sectors of Southern Portugal for up to nine months (out of eleven) of the vegetative cycle. On the contrary, the 2002 event was characterized by negative anomalies in the northern half of Portugal and for a shorter period (eight out of eleven months). The impact of soil moisture on vegetation dynamics is evaluated by analyzing monthly anomalies of SWI and by studying the annual cycle of SWI vs. NDVI. While in the case of the drought episode of 1999 the scarcity of water in the soil persisted until spring, in the recent episode of 2005 the deficit in greenness was already apparent at the end of summer. The impact of dry periods on vegetation is clearly observed in both arable land and forest, and it is found that arable land presents a higher sensitivity. From an operational point of view, obtained results reveal the possibility of using the developed methodology to monitor, in quasi real-time, vegetation stress and droughts in Mediterranean ecosystems.