Suitability of spectral indices for evaluating vegetation characteristics on arid rangelands

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Journal Article
Remote Sensing of Environment, 1987, 23 (2)
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The spectral behavior of an arid, Lehmann lovegrass (Eragrostis lehmanniana), range canopy with varying quantities of live, green grass, senesced, yellow grass, weathered, gray litter, and different soil backgrounds was analyzed with a ground based radiometer. The analysis included rangeland field plots and artificial mixtures of live and dead grass. Senesced grass and weathered litter were found to significantly alter the spectral response of the range canopy in the first four Thematic Mapper wavebands (0.45-0.52; 0.52-0.60; 0.63-0.69; 0.76-0.90 μm). These influences seriously hampered the utility of spectral vegetation indices in assessing green phytomass levels. Gray litter lowered the response of the green vegetation index (GVI) and perpendicular vegetation index (PVI) while minimally influencing the ratio vegetation index (RVI) and the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). Yellow, senesced grass increased the greenness response of plots without green vegetation and decreased the greenness response of plots with green vegetation. Higher reflecting soils increased the GVI and PVI response and decreased the RVI and NDVI response of comparable range canopy mixtures. Small amounts of 30 cm tall, green grass (750 kg/ha) could not be detected within a 75 cm tall, senesced grass stand (5000 kg/ha). The results of this study show spectral vegetation indices to be unreliable measures of green phytomass in arid rangelands. A mixture model employing principal component analysis was used to extract a green vegetation signal, but green phytomass detection was not improved. Apparently, the green vegetation signal emerging from range canopies is diminished by the scattering influences of the vertically oriented elements of the senesced grass phytomass. © 1987.
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