Assessing water stress of desert Tamarugo trees using in situ data and very high spatial resolution remote sensing

Chávez Oyanadel, R.O.; Clevers, J.G.P.W.; Herold, M.; Acevedo, E.; Ortiz, M.


The hyper-arid Atacama Desert is one of the most extreme environments for life and only few species have evolved to survive its aridness. One such species is the tree Prosopis tamarugo Phil. Because Tamarugo completely depends on groundwater, it is being threatened by the high water demand from the Chilean mining industry and the human consumption. In this paper, we identified the most important biophysical variables to assess the water status of Tamarugo trees and tested the potential of WorldView2 satellite images to retrieve these variables. We propose green canopy fraction (GCF) and green drip line leaf area index (DLLAIgreen) as best variables and a value of 0.25 GCF as a critical threshold for Tamarugo survival. Using the WorldView2 spectral bands and an object-based image analysis, we showed that the NDVI and the Red-edge Chlorophyll Index (CIRed-edge) have good potential to retrieve GCF and DLLAIgreen. The NDVI performed best for DLLAIgreen (RMSE = 0.4) while the CIRed-edge was best for GCF (RMSE = 0.1). However, both indices were affected by Tamarugo leaf movements (leaves avoid facing direct solar radiation at the hottest time of the day). Thus, monitoring systems based on these indices should consider the time of the day and the season of the year at which the satellite images are acquired.