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Investigating the effects of land use and land cover on the relationship between moisture and reflectance using Landsat Time Series

June 13, 2020

To better understand the Earth system, it is important to investigate the interactions between precipitation, land use/land cover (LULC), and the land surface, especially vegetation. An improved understanding of these land-atmosphere interactions can aid understanding of the climate system and modeling of time series satellite data. Here, we investigate the effect of precipitation and LULC on the reflectance of the land surface in the northern U.S. Great Plains. We utilize time series satellite data from the 45 year Landsat archive. The length of the Landsat record allows for analysis of multiple periods of drought and wet conditions (reflecting climate, as well as weather), such that the precipitation-reflectance relationship can be investigated robustly for every individual pixel in the study area. The high spatial resolution of Landsat (30 m) allows for investigation of spatial patterns in weather (i.e., precipitation extremes) interactions with land surface reflectance at the scale of individual fields. Weather history is represented by a drought index that describes effective moisture availability, the Standardized Precipitation and Evaporation Index (SPEI). We find that effective moisture has a robust and consistent effect on reflectance over many types of land cover, with ∼90% of all pixels having significantly ( p<0.01">p<0.01 ) higher visible reflectance during dry periods than during wet, occurring in nearly all regional, temporal, and LULC categories investigated. In grassland, the relationship is especially strong; there is an average reflectance increase of more than a third between very wet and very dry conditions (red band), and ∼99% of pixels have a significant relationship. In cropland, the effective moisture-reflectance relationship is more variable, suggesting that management decisions are an important factor in cropland-reflectance relationships.