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Drought assessment and monitoring through remote sensing and GIS in western tracts of Tamil Nadu, India

Muthumanickam, D., Kannan, P., Kumaraperumal, R., Natarajan, S., Sivasamy, R., Poongodi, C.
International journal of remote sensing 2011 v.32 no.18 pp. 5157-5176
Macrotyloma uniflorum, cropping systems, crops, data collection, drought, forests, geographic information systems, grasses, grasslands, meteorological data, monitoring, onions, pastures, peanuts, rain, remote sensing, rice, risk, shrublands, tapioca, vegetation cover, India
Drought is an insidious hazard of nature and is considered to be the most complex but least understood of all natural hazards. Large historical datasets are required to study drought and these involve complex interrelationships between climatological and meteorological data. Rainfall is an important meteorological parameter; the amount and distribution influence the type of vegetation in a region. To analyse the changes in vegetation cover due to variation in rainfall and identify the land-use areas facing drought risk, rainfall data from 1981 to 2003 were categorized into excess, normal, deficit and drought years. The Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) sensor's composite dataset was used for analysing the temporal and interannual behaviour of surface vegetation. The various land-use classes – crop land (annual, perennial crops), scrub land, barren land, forest land, degraded pasture and grassland – were identified using satellite data for excess, normal, deficit and drought years. Normalized Difference Vegetation Indices (NDVIs) were derived from satellite data for each land-use class and the highest NDVI mean values were 0.515, 0.436 and 0.385 for the tapioca crop in excess, normal and deficit years, respectively, whereas in the drought year, the groundnut crop (0.267) showed the maximum. Grassland recorded the lowest value of NDVI in all years except for the excess year. Annual crops, such as groundnut (0.398), pulses (0.313), sorghum (0.120), tapioca (0.436) and horse gram (0.259), registered comparatively higher NDVI values than the perennial crops for the normal year. The Vegetation Condition Index (VCI) was used to estimate vegetation health and monitor drought. Among land-use classes, the maximum VCI value of 92.1% was observed in onions for the excess year, whereas groundnut witnessed the maximum values of 78.2, 64.5 and 55.2% for normal, deficit and drought years, respectively. Based on the VCI classification, all land-use classes fall into the optimal or normal vegetation category in excess and normal years, whereas in drought years most of the land-use classes fall into the drought category except for sorghum, groundnut, pulses and grasses. These crops (sorghum 39.7%, groundnut 55.2%, pulses 38.5% and grassland 38.6%) registered maximum VCI values, revealing that they were sustained under drought conditions. It is suggested that the existing crop pattern be modified in drought periods by selecting the suitable crops of sorghum, groundnut and pulses and avoiding the cultivation of onion, rice and tapioca.