Study: Modeling global indices for estimating non-photosynthetic vegetation cover

Non-photosynthetic vegetation (NPV) includes plant litter, senesced leaves, and crop residues. NPV plays an essential role in terrestrial ecosystem processes, and is an important indicator of drought severity, ecosystem disturbance, agricultural resilience, and wildfire danger. Current moderate spatial resolution multispectral satellite systems (e.g., Landsat and Sentinel-2) have only a single band in the 2000–2500 nm shortwave infrared “SWIR2” range where non-pigment biochemical constituents of NPV, including cellulose and lignin, have important spectral absorption features. Thus, these current systems have suboptimal capabilities for characterizing NPV cover. This research used simulated spectral mixtures accounting for variability among NPV and soils to evaluate globally-appropriate hyperspectral and multispectral indices for estimation of fractional NPV cover. The Continuum Interpolated NPV Depth Index (CINDI), a weighted ratio index measuring lignocellulose absorption near 2100 nm, was found to produce the lowest error in estimating NPV cover. CINDI was less sensitive to variability in soil spectra and green vegetation cover than competing indices. While CINDI was sensitive to the relative water content of soil and NPV, this sensitivity allowed for correcting error in estimated NPV cover as water content increased. CINDI bands were less capable than Dual Absorption NPV Index (DANI) bands for maintaining continuity with the heritage Landsat SWIR2 band, but combining multiple CINDI bands demonstrated adequate continuity. Three SWIR2 bands with band centers at 2038, 2108, and 2211 nm can provide superior capabilities for future moderate resolution multispectral/superspectral systems targeting NPV monitoring, including the next generation Landsat mission (Landsat Next). These bands and the associated CINDI index provide potential for global NPV monitoring using a constellation of future superspectral sensors and imaging spectrometers, with applications including improving soil management, preventing land degradation, evaluating impacts of drought, mapping ecosystem disturbance, and assessing wildfire danger.

(Co-authors: Dennison, P.E., Lamb, B.T., Campbell, M.J., Kokaly, R.F., Vermote, E., Dabney, P., Serbin, G., Quemada, M., Daughtry, C.S.T., Masek, J., Wu, Z.)

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Remote Sensing of Environment, 295, 113715. 2023