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Using NDVI to measure precipitation in semi-arid landscapes

Birtwistle, Amy N., Laituri, Melinda, Bledsoe, Brian, Friedman, Jonathan M.
Journal of arid environments 2016 v.131 pp. 15-24
Landsat, dry environmental conditions, landscapes, monsoon season, normalized difference vegetation index, radar, rain, rain gauges, runoff, seasonal variation, storms, stream channels, thematic maps, variance, Arizona
Measuring precipitation in semi-arid landscapes is important for understanding the processes related to rainfall and run-off; however, measuring precipitation accurately can often be challenging especially within remote regions where precipitation instruments are scarce. Typically, rain-gauges are sparsely distributed and research comparing rain-gauge and RADAR precipitation estimates reveal that RADAR data are often misleading, especially for monsoon season convective storms. This study investigates an alternative way to map the spatial and temporal variation of precipitation inputs along ephemeral stream channels using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) derived from Landsat Thematic Mapper imagery. NDVI values from 26 years of pre- and post-monsoon season Landsat imagery were derived across Yuma Proving Ground (YPG), a region covering 3,367 km2 of semiarid landscapes in southwestern Arizona, USA. The change in NDVI from a pre-to post-monsoon season image along ephemeral stream channels explained 73% of the variance in annual monsoonal precipitation totals from a nearby rain-gauge. In addition, large seasonal changes in NDVI along channels were useful in determining when and where flow events have occurred.