Assessing vegetation response to multi-scalar drought across the mojave, sonoran, chihuahuan deserts and apache highlands in the Southwest United States

Pratima Khatri-Chhetri, Sean M. Hendryx, Kyle A. Hartfield, Michael A. Crimmins, Willem J.D. van Leeuwen, Van R. Kane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Understanding the patterns and relationships between vegetation productivity and climatic conditions is essential for predicting the future impacts of climate change. Climate change is altering precipitation patterns and increasing temperatures in the Southwest United States. The large-scale and long-term effects of these changes on vegetation productivity are not well understood. This study investigates the patterns and relationships between seasonal vegetation productivity, represented by Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), and the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) across the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts and the Apache Highlands of the Southwest United States over 16 years from 2000 to 2015. To examine the spatiotemporal gradient and response of vegetation productivity to dry and wet conditions, we evaluated the linear trend of different SPEI timescales and correlations between NDVI and SPEI. We found that all four ecoregions are experiencing more frequent and severe drought conditions in recent years as measured by negative SPEI trends and severe negative SPEI values. We found that changes in NDVI were more strongly correlated with winter rather than summer water availability. Investigating correlations by vegetation type across all four ecoregions, we found that grassland and shrubland productivity were more dependent on summer water availability whereas sparse vegetation and forest productivity were more dependent on winter water availability. Our results can inform resource management and enhance our understanding of vegetation vulnerability to climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1103
JournalRemote Sensing
Volume13
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2 2021

Keywords

  • Drought
  • Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)
  • Semi-arid regions
  • Southwest United States
  • Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI)
  • Vegetation productivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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