Remote Sensing and Dryland Management

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Drylands (areas characterized by low precipitation, high evapotranspiration, and low soil moisture) occupy around 40-45% of the earth’s surface. Many drylands contain high biodiversity and provide essential ecosystem services (e.g., livestock forage, agricultural production, pollination) for nearly 1/3 of the world’s population who live in drylands.  Given limited precipitation and other resources, drylands can have abrupt responses to intensive land use and climate variability, and small environmental changes often have disproportionally large ecological effects in these systems. Our research applies remote sensing and spatial analysis to characterize and monitor dryland vegetation and soils, to help understand how land use and climate affects ecosystem processes, and to provide information on how ecological processes can be managed to accelerate recovery of disturbed and degraded lands. 

This page describes some of the remote sensing methods and results of four ongoing USGS studies: 1) using Landsat time series data to measure reclamation success, 2) mapping and monitoring invasive grasses, 3) characterizing biological soil crusts and soil heterogeneity, and 4) mapping and modeling surface disturbances.  Detailed webpages for research listed above found under the Related Science tab or click the underlined links.

A photo of Sonoran Desert of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona

 Figure 1. The Sonoran Desert of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona.

(Credit: Miguel Villarreal, USGS. Public domain.)

Photo of a student collecting data

Fingure 2. University of Arizona student intern collecting field information in the Sonoran Desert.

(Credit: Miguel Villarreal, USGS. Image used with permission)

A photo of a distressed desert of the Sonoran Desert

Figure 3. A distressed desert in the Sonoran Desert of the Barry M. Goldwater Range in Arizona.

(Credit: Miguel Villarreal, USGS. Public domain.)


Related Science:

1.1 Remote sensing of energy development

1.2 Remote sensing of invasive annual grasses

1.3 Remote sensing of biological soil crusts

1.4 Soil compaction and erosion