Differences in Landsat-based trend analyses in drylands due to the choice of vegetation estimate


Drylands cover about 41% of the globe’s surface and provide important ecosystem services, but land use and climate change exert considerable pressure on these ecosystems. Both of these drivers frequently result in gradual vegetation change and landscape-scale trend analysis based on yearly vegetation estimates can capture such changes. Such trend analyses based on high-resolution time series of satellite imagery have so far not widely been used and existing studies in drylands relied on different vegetation measures. Spectral mixture analysis (SMA) has been chosen due to its superiority to simpler vegetation estimates in quantifying vegetation cover in single-date studies, however SMA can be challenging to implement for large areas. Here, we quantify the trade-off involved when using simple vegetation estimates instead of SMA fractions for subsequent trend analyses. We calculated NDVI, SAVI and Tasseled Cap Greenness, as well as SMA green vegetation fractions for a time series of Landsat images from 1984–2005 for a study region in Crete. Linear trend analysis showed that trend coefficients and the spatial patterns of trends were similar across all vegetation estimates and the entire study region, especially for areas where vegetation changed gradually. On average, trends based on simple measures differed less than 5% from SMA-based trends with decreasing similarity in trend results from Tasseled Cap Greenness to SAVI and NDVI. Vegetation estimates differed markedly in their response to disturbance events such as fires. Trend analyses based on qualitative measures can easily be applied across very large areas and using multi-sensor time series based on high-resolution data. While the subtle differences between vegetation estimates may still be important for some applications, the robustness of trend analyses regarding the choice of vegetation estimate bears considerable promise to reconstruct fine-scale vegetation dynamics and land use histories and to assess climate change impacts on the world’s drylands.

Remote Sensing of Environment, 115(6) 1408-1420
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab