Relationships between Evaporative Fraction and Remotely Sensed Vegetation Index and Microwave Brightness Temperature for Semiarid Rangelands

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  • a USDA-ARS, Hydrology Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland
  • b USDA-ARS, Southwest Watershed Research Unit, Tucson, Arizona
  • c USDA-ARS, U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory, Phoenix, Arizona
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Abstract

Measurements of the microwave brightness temperature (TB) with the Pushbroom Microwave Radiometer (PBMR) over the Walnut Gulch Experimental Watershed were made on selected days during the MONSOON 90 field campaign. The PBMR is an L-band instrument (21-cm wavelength) that can provide estimates of near-surface soil moisture over a variety of surfaces. Aircraft observations in the visible and near-infrared wavelengths collected on selected days also were used to compute a vegetation index. Continuous micrometeorological measurements and daily soil moisture samples were obtained at eight locations during the experimental period. Two sites were instrumented with time domain reflectometry probes to monitor the soil moisture profile. The fraction of available energy used for evapotranspiration was computed by taking the ratio of latent heat flux (LE) to the sum of net radiation (Rn) and soil heat flux (G). This ratio is commonly called the evaporative fraction (EF) and normally varies between 0 and 1 under daytime convective conditions with minimal advection. A wide range of environmental conditions existed during the field campaign, resulting in average EF values for the study area varying from 0.4 to 0.8 and values of TB ranging from 220 to 280 K. Comparison between measured TB and EF for the eight locations showed an inverse relationship with a significant correlation (r2 = 0.69). Other days were included in the analysis by estimating TB with the soil moisture data. Because transpiration from the vegetation is more strongly coupled to root zone soil moisture, significant scatter in this relationship existed at high values of TB or dry near-surface soil moisture conditions. It caused a substantial reduction in the correlation with r2 = 0.40 or only 40% of the variation in EF being explained by TB. The variation in EF under dry near-surface soil moisture conditions was correlated to the amount of vegetation cover estimated with a remotely sensed vegetation index. These findings indicate that information obtained from optical and microwave data can be used for quantifying the energy balance of semiarid areas. The microwave data can indicate when soil evaporation is significantly contributing to EF, while the optical data is helpful for quantifying the spatial variation in EF due to the distribution of vegetation cover.

Abstract

Measurements of the microwave brightness temperature (TB) with the Pushbroom Microwave Radiometer (PBMR) over the Walnut Gulch Experimental Watershed were made on selected days during the MONSOON 90 field campaign. The PBMR is an L-band instrument (21-cm wavelength) that can provide estimates of near-surface soil moisture over a variety of surfaces. Aircraft observations in the visible and near-infrared wavelengths collected on selected days also were used to compute a vegetation index. Continuous micrometeorological measurements and daily soil moisture samples were obtained at eight locations during the experimental period. Two sites were instrumented with time domain reflectometry probes to monitor the soil moisture profile. The fraction of available energy used for evapotranspiration was computed by taking the ratio of latent heat flux (LE) to the sum of net radiation (Rn) and soil heat flux (G). This ratio is commonly called the evaporative fraction (EF) and normally varies between 0 and 1 under daytime convective conditions with minimal advection. A wide range of environmental conditions existed during the field campaign, resulting in average EF values for the study area varying from 0.4 to 0.8 and values of TB ranging from 220 to 280 K. Comparison between measured TB and EF for the eight locations showed an inverse relationship with a significant correlation (r2 = 0.69). Other days were included in the analysis by estimating TB with the soil moisture data. Because transpiration from the vegetation is more strongly coupled to root zone soil moisture, significant scatter in this relationship existed at high values of TB or dry near-surface soil moisture conditions. It caused a substantial reduction in the correlation with r2 = 0.40 or only 40% of the variation in EF being explained by TB. The variation in EF under dry near-surface soil moisture conditions was correlated to the amount of vegetation cover estimated with a remotely sensed vegetation index. These findings indicate that information obtained from optical and microwave data can be used for quantifying the energy balance of semiarid areas. The microwave data can indicate when soil evaporation is significantly contributing to EF, while the optical data is helpful for quantifying the spatial variation in EF due to the distribution of vegetation cover.

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