Using earth observation-based dry season NDVI trends for assessment of changes in tree cover in the Sahel

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The co-existence of trees and grasses is a defining feature of savannah ecosystems and landscapes. During recent decades, the combined effect of climate change and increased demographic pressure has led to complex vegetation changes in these ecosystems. A number of recent Earth observation (EO)-based studies reported positive changes in biological productivity in the Sahelian region in relation to increased precipitation, triggering an increased amount of herbaceous vegetation during the rainy season. However, this
‘greening of the Sahel’ may mask changes in the tree – grass composition, with a potential reduction in tree cover having important implications for the Sahelian population. Large-scale EO-based evaluation of changes in Sahelian tree cover is assessed by analysing long-term trends in dry season minimum normalized difference vegetation index (NDVImin) derived from three different satellite sensors: Système Pour l'Observation de la Terre (SPOT)-VEGETATION (VGT), Terra Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), and the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) Global Inventory Modeling and Mapping Studies (GIMMS) dataset. To evaluate the reliability of using NDVImin as a proxy for tree cover in the Sahel, two factors that could potentially influence dry season NDVImin estimates were analysed: the total biomass accumulated during the preceding growing season and the percentage of burned area observed during the dry season.
Time series of dry season NDVImin derived from low-resolution satellite time series were found to be uncorrelated to dry grass residues from the preceding growing season and to seasonal fire frequency and timing over most of the Sahel (88%), suggesting that NDVImin can serve as a proxy for assessing changes in tree cover. Good agreement (R2= 0.79) between significant NDVImin
trends (p< 0.05) derived from VGT and MODIS was found. Significant positive trends in NDVImin were registered by both MODIS and VGT dry season NDVImin time series over the Western Sahel, whereas trends based on GIMMS data were negative for the greater part of the Sahel. EO-based trends were generally not confirmed at the local scale based on selected study cases, partly caused by a temporal mismatch between data sets (i.e. different periods of analysis). Analysis of desert area NDVImin trends indicates less stable values for
VGT and GIMMS data as compared with MODIS. This suggests that trends in dry
season NDVImin derived from VGT and GIMMS should be used with caution as an indicator for changes in tree cover, whereas the MODIS data stream shows a better potential for tree-cover change analysis in the Sahel.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Remote Sensing
Issue number7
Pages (from-to) 2493-2515
Publication statusPublished - 2014

ID: 105344852