Drought impacts on vegetation activity in the Mediterranean region: An assessment using remote sensing data and multi-scale drought indicators

Gouveia CM, Trigo RM, Begueria S, Vicente-Serrano SM
Global and Planetary Change 151 (2017) 1527,

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The present work analyzes the drought impacts on vegetation over the entire Mediterranean basin, with the purpose of determining the vegetation communities, regions and seasons at which vegetation is driven by drought. Our approach is based on the use of remote sensing data and a multi-scalar drought index. Correlation maps between fields of monthly Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and the Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) at different time scales (124 months) were computed for representative months of winter (Feb), spring (May), summer (Aug) and fall (Nov). Results for the period from 1982 to 2006 show large areas highly controlled by drought, although presenting high spatial and seasonal differences, with a maximum influence in August and a minimum in February. The highest correlation values are observed in February for 3 months' time scale and in May for 6 and 12 months. The higher control of drought on vegetation in February and May is obtained mainly over the drier vegetation communities (Mediterranean Dry and Desertic) at shorter time scales (3 to 9 months). Additionally, in February the impact of drought on vegetation is lower for Temperate Oceanic and Continental vegetation types and takes place at longer time scales (1824). The dependence of drought time-scale response with water balance, as obtained through a simple difference between precipitation and reference evapotranspiration, varies with vegetation communities. During February and November low water balance values correspond to shorter time scales over dry vegetation communities, whereas high water balance values implies longer time scales over Temperate Oceanic and Continental areas. The strong control of drought on vegetation observed for Mediterranean Dry and Desertic vegetation types located over areas with high negative values of water balance emphasizes the need for an early warning drought system covering the entire Mediterranean basin. We are confident that these results will provide a useful tool for drought management plans and play a relevant role in mitigating the impact of drought episodes.