We compare microwave GPS and optical-based remote sensing observations of the vegetation response to a recent drought in California, USA. The microwave data are based on reflected GPS signals that were collected by a geodetic network. These data are sensitive to temporal variations in vegetation water content and are made available via the Normalized Microwave Reflection Index (NMRI). NMRI data are complementary to information of plant greenness provided by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). NMRI data from 146 sites in California are compared to collocated NDVI observations, over the interval of 2007-2016. This period includes a severe, three-year drought (2012-2014). We quantify the seasonal variations in vegetation state by calculating a series of phenology metrics at each site, using both NMRI and NDVI. We examine how the phenology metrics vary from year-to-year, as related to the observed fluctuations in accumulated precipitation. The amplitude of seasonal vegetation growth exhibits the greatest sensitivity to prior accumulated precipitation. Above-normal precipitation from 4 to 12 months before peak growth yields a stronger seasonal growth pulse, and vice versa. The amplitude of seasonal growth, as determined from NDVI, varies linearly with precipitation during dry years, but is largely insensitive to precipitation amount in years with above-normal precipitation. In contrast, the amplitude of seasonal growth from NMRI varies approximately linearly with precipitation across the entire range of conditions observed. The length of season is positively correlated with prior accumulated precipitation, more strongly with NDVI than NMRI. The recovery from drought was similar for a one-year (2007) and the more severe three-year drought (2012-2014). In both cases, the amplitude of growth returned to typical values in the first year with near-normal precipitation. Growing season length, only based on NDVI, was greatly reduced in 2014, the driest and final year of the three-year California drought.
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Small, Eric E.; Roesler, Carolyn J.; and Larson, Kristine M., "Vegetation Response to the 2012-2014 California Drought from GPS and Optical Measurements" (2018). Geological Sciences Faculty Contributions. 39.