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Assessing Nebraska playa wetland inundation status during 1985–2015 using Landsat data and Google Earth Engine

Tang, Zhenghong, Li, Yao, Gu, Yue, Jiang, Weiguo, Xue, Yuan, Hu, Qiao, LaGrange, Ted, Bishop, Andy, Drahota, Jeff, Li, Ruopu
Environmental monitoring and assessment 2016 v.188 no.12 pp. 654
Internet, Landsat, habitats, hydric soils, hydrology, image analysis, migratory behavior, migratory birds, monitoring, playas, right of access, spring, vegetation index, Nebraska
Playa wetlands in Nebraska provide globally important habitats for migratory waterfowl. Inundation condition is an important indicator of playa wetland functionality. However, there is a lack of long-term continuous monitoring records for playa wetlands. The objective of this study was to determine a suitable index for Landsat images to map the playa inundation status in March and April during 1985–2015. Four types of spectral indices—negative normalized vegetation index, Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI), modified NDWI, and Tasseled Cap Wetness-Greenness Difference (TCWGD)—were evaluated to detect playa inundation conditions from Landsat images. The results indicate that the TCWGD is the most suitable index for distinguishing playa inundation status. By using Landsat images and Google Earth Engine, we mapped the spring inundation condition of Nebraska playas during 1985–2015. The results show that the total inundated areas were 176.79 km² in spring migratory season, representing 18.92% of the total area of playa wetlands. There were 9898 wetlands inundated at least once in either March or April during the past 30 years, representing 29.41% of a total of 33,659 historical wetlands. After comparing the historical hydric soil footprints and the inundated areas, the results indicate that the hydrological conditions of the majority of playas in Nebraska have changed. The inundated wetlands are candidates for protection and/or partial restoration, and the un-inundated wetlands need more attention for wetland restoration. Wetlands in areas enrolled in conservation easements had a significantly high level of playa inundation status than non-conserved wetlands during spring migratory seasons in the past decades.These conservation easements only count for 4.29% of the total footprint areas, but they have contributed 20.82% of the inundation areas in Nebraska during the past 30 years.