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Assessing a crop water stress index derived from aerial thermal imaging and infrared thermometry in super-high density olive orchards

Egea, Gregorio, Padilla-Díaz, Carmen M., Martinez-Guanter, Jorge, Fernández, José E., Pérez-Ruiz, Manuel
Agricultural water management 2017 v.187 pp. 210-221
cameras, deficit irrigation, fruit trees, gas exchange, growing season, image analysis, irrigation rates, leaf water potential, leaves, meteorological parameters, microirrigation, olives, orchards, seasonal variation, soil water content, stomatal conductance, temperature, unmanned aerial vehicles, water stress, Spain
Characterization of the spatio-temporal variability of tree water status is a prerequisite to conducting precise irrigation management in fruit tree orchards. This study assessed the suitability of a crop water stress index (CWSI) derived from high-resolution aerial thermal imagery for estimating tree water status variability in super high density (SHD) olive orchards. The experiment was conducted at a commercial SHD olive orchard near Seville (southwestern Spain), with drip irrigated trees under three irrigation treatments (four plots per treatment in a randomized block design): a full irrigation treatment to replace the crop water needs (ETc) and two regulated deficit irrigation treatments to replace ca. 45% of ETc. Meteorological variables, soil moisture content, leaf water potential, stem water potential and leaf gas exchange measurements were performed along the irrigation season. Infrared temperature sensors (IRTs) installed approximately 1m above the canopies were used to derive the required Non-Water-Stressed Baselines (NWSBs) for CWSI calculation. NWSBs were not common during the growing season, although the seasonal effect could be partly explained with solar angle variations. A thermal camera installed on a mini Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) allowed for the recording of high-resolution thermal images on 5 representative dates during the irrigation season. The CWSI values derived from aerial thermal imagery were sensitive to the imposed variations in tree water status within the SHD olive orchard. Among the recorded variables, maximum stomatal conductance showed the tightest correlation with CWSI. We concluded that high-resolution thermal imagery captured from a mini RPAS is a suitable tool for defining tree water status variability within SHD olive orchards.