Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Future opportunities and challenges in remote sensing of drought

January 1, 2012

The value of satellite remote sensing for drought monitoring was first realized more than two decades ago with the application of Normalized Difference Index (NDVI) data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) for assessing the effect of drought on vegetation. Other indices such as the Vegetation Health Index (VHI) were also developed during this time period, and applied to AVHRR NDVI and brightness temperature data for routine global monitoring of drought conditions. These early efforts demonstrated the unique perspective that global imagers such as AVHRR could provide for operational drought monitoring through their near-daily, global observations of Earth's land surface. However, the advancement of satellite remote sensing of drought was limited by the relatively few spectral bands of operational global sensors such as AVHRR, along with a relatively short period of observational record. Remote sensing advancements are of paramount importance given the increasing demand for tools that can provide accurate, timely, and integrated information on drought conditions to facilitate proactive decision making (NIDIS, 2007). Satellite-based approaches are key to addressing significant gaps in the spatial and temporal coverage of current surface station instrument networks providing key moisture observations (e.g., rainfall, snow, soil moisture, ground water, and ET) over the United States and globally (NIDIS, 2007). Improved monitoring capabilities will be particularly important given increases in spatial extent, intensity, and duration of drought events observed in some regions of the world, as reported in the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (IPCC, 2007). The risk of drought is anticipated to further increase in some regions in response to climatic changes in the hydrologic cycle related to evaporation, precipitation, air temperature, and snow cover (Burke et al., 2006; IPCC, 2007; USGCRP, 2009). Numerous national, regional, and global efforts such as the Famine and Early Warning System (FEWS), National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), and Group on Earth Observations (GEO), as well as the establishment of regional drought centers (e.g., European Drought Observatory) and geospatial visualization and monitoring systems (e.g, NASA SERVIR) have been undertaken to improve drought monitoring and early warning systems throughout the world. The suite of innovative remote sensing tools that have recently emerged will be looked upon to fill important data and knowledge gaps (NIDIS, 2007; NRC, 2007) to address a wide range of drought-related issues including food security, water scarcity, and human health.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2012
Title Future opportunities and challenges in remote sensing of drought
DOI 10.1201/b11863-23
Authors Brian D. Wardlow, Martha C. Anderson, Justin Sheffield, Brad Doorn, James Verdin, Xiwu Zhan, Matt Rodell
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 70043302
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center

Related Content