89th American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting

Monday, 12 January 2009: 1:30 PM
A GOES-Based Drought Product Using Thermal Remote Sensing of Evapotranspiration
Room 127BC (Phoenix Convention Center)
Martha C. Anderson, USDA/ARS, Beltsville, MD; and W. P. Kustas, J. R. Mecikalski, and C. R. Hain
Thermal infrared (TIR) remote sensing of land-surface temperature (LST) provides valuable information about the sub-surface moisture status: soil surface temperature increases with decreasing water content, while moisture depletion in the plant root zone leads to stomatal closure, reduced transpiration, and elevated canopy temperatures that can be effectively detected from space. Empirical indices measuring anomalies in LST and vegetation amount (e.g., as quantified by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index; NDVI) have demonstrated utility in monitoring drought conditions over large areas, but may provide ambiguous results when vegetation growth is limited by energy (radiation, air temperature) rather than moisture. A more physically based interpretation of LST and NDVI and their relationship to sub-surface moisture conditions can be obtained with a surface energy balance model driven by TIR remote sensing. In this approach, moisture stress can be quantified in terms of the reduction of evapotranspiration (ET) from the potential rate (PET) expected under non-moisture limiting conditions.

The Atmosphere-Land Exchange Inverse (ALEXI) model couples a two-source (soil+canopy) land-surface model with an atmospheric boundary layer model in time-differencing mode to routinely and robustly map fluxes across the U.S. continent at 5-10km resolution using thermal band imagery from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES). A derived Evaporative Stress Index (ESI), given by 1-ET/PET, shows good correspondence with standard drought metrics and with patterns of antecedent precipitation, but at significantly higher spatial resolution due to limited reliance on ground observations. The TIR inputs detect drought conditions even under the dense forest cover along the East Coast of the United States, where microwave soil moisture retrievals typically lose sensitivity. Higher resolution drought assessments can be generated through spatial disaggregation using TIR data from polar orbiting instruments such as Landsat (60-120m) and MODIS (1km).

The ALEXI ESI algorithm is diagnostic and does not require precipitation or soil texture information, unlike the PDI, the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), The North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS), and other drought indices based on rainfall or soil water balance. It inherently reflects impacts of irrigation, which must be modeled or neglected in other indices. Being an independent means for assessing drought conditions, the ESI has significant potential for enhancing the existing suite of drought monitoring products. Work is underway to further evaluate multi-scale ESI implementations over the U.S. and other continents with geostationary satellite coverage.

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