Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (2019-04-01)

Does the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index explain spatial and temporal variability in sap velocity in temperate forest ecosystems?

  • A. J. Hoek van Dijke,
  • A. J. Hoek van Dijke,
  • A. J. Hoek van Dijke,
  • K. Mallick,
  • A. J. Teuling,
  • M. Schlerf,
  • M. Machwitz,
  • S. K. Hassler,
  • T. Blume,
  • M. Herold

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 23
pp. 2077 – 2091


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Understanding the link between vegetation characteristics and tree transpiration is a critical need to facilitate satellite-based transpiration estimation. Many studies use the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), a proxy for tree biophysical characteristics, to estimate evapotranspiration. In this study, we investigated the link between sap velocity and 30 m resolution Landsat-derived NDVI for 20 days during 2 contrasting precipitation years in a temperate deciduous forest catchment. Sap velocity was measured in the Attert catchment in Luxembourg in 25 plots of 20×20 m covering three geologies with sensors installed in two to four trees per plot. The results show that, spatially, sap velocity and NDVI were significantly positively correlated in April, i.e. NDVI successfully captured the pattern of sap velocity during the phase of green-up. After green-up, a significant negative correlation was found during half of the studied days. During a dry period, sap velocity was uncorrelated with NDVI but influenced by geology and aspect. In summary, in our study area, the correlation between sap velocity and NDVI was not constant, but varied with phenology and water availability. The same behaviour was found for the Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI). This suggests that methods using NDVI or EVI to predict small-scale variability in (evapo)transpiration should be carefully applied, and that NDVI and EVI cannot be used to scale sap velocity to stand-level transpiration in temperate forest ecosystems.