Vegetation Dynamics within the North American Monsoon Region

Giovanni Forzieri Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, University of Florence, Florence, Italy

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Fabio Castelli Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile e Ambientale, University of Florence, Florence, Italy

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Enrique R. Vivoni School of Earth and Space Exploration, and School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

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Abstract

The North American monsoon (NAM) leads to a large increase in summer rainfall and a seasonal change in vegetation in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Understanding the interactions between NAM rainfall and vegetation dynamics is essential for improved climate and hydrologic prediction. In this work, the authors analyze long-term vegetation dynamics over the North American Monsoon Experiment (NAME) tier I domain (20°–35°N, 105°–115°W) using normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) semimonthly composites at 8-km resolution from 1982 to 2006. The authors derive ecoregions with similar vegetation dynamics using principal component analysis and cluster identification. Based on ecoregion and pixel-scale analyses, this study quantifies the seasonal and interannual vegetation variations, their dependence on geographic position and terrain attributes, and the presence of long-term trends through a set of phenological vegetation metrics. Results reveal that seasonal biomass productivity, as captured by the time-integrated NDVI (TINDVI), is an excellent means to synthesize vegetation dynamics. High TINDVI occurs for ecosystems with a short period of intense greening tuned to the NAM or with a prolonged period of moderate greenness continuing after the NAM. These cases represent different plant strategies (deciduous versus evergreen) that can be adjusted along spatial gradients to cope with seasonal water availability. Long-term trends in TINDVI may also indicate changing conditions favoring ecosystems that intensively use NAM rainfall for rapid productivity, as opposed to delayed and moderate greening. A persistence of these trends could potentially result in the spatial reorganization of ecosystems in the NAM region.

Corresponding author address: Enrique R. Vivoni, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Bateman Physical Science Center, F-Wing, Room 650A, Tempe, AZ 85287-1404. Email: vivoni@asu.edu

Abstract

The North American monsoon (NAM) leads to a large increase in summer rainfall and a seasonal change in vegetation in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Understanding the interactions between NAM rainfall and vegetation dynamics is essential for improved climate and hydrologic prediction. In this work, the authors analyze long-term vegetation dynamics over the North American Monsoon Experiment (NAME) tier I domain (20°–35°N, 105°–115°W) using normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) semimonthly composites at 8-km resolution from 1982 to 2006. The authors derive ecoregions with similar vegetation dynamics using principal component analysis and cluster identification. Based on ecoregion and pixel-scale analyses, this study quantifies the seasonal and interannual vegetation variations, their dependence on geographic position and terrain attributes, and the presence of long-term trends through a set of phenological vegetation metrics. Results reveal that seasonal biomass productivity, as captured by the time-integrated NDVI (TINDVI), is an excellent means to synthesize vegetation dynamics. High TINDVI occurs for ecosystems with a short period of intense greening tuned to the NAM or with a prolonged period of moderate greenness continuing after the NAM. These cases represent different plant strategies (deciduous versus evergreen) that can be adjusted along spatial gradients to cope with seasonal water availability. Long-term trends in TINDVI may also indicate changing conditions favoring ecosystems that intensively use NAM rainfall for rapid productivity, as opposed to delayed and moderate greening. A persistence of these trends could potentially result in the spatial reorganization of ecosystems in the NAM region.

Corresponding author address: Enrique R. Vivoni, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Bateman Physical Science Center, F-Wing, Room 650A, Tempe, AZ 85287-1404. Email: vivoni@asu.edu

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