GRACE satellite observed hydrological controls on interannual and seasonal variability in surface greenness over Mainland Australia

Yuting Yang, Di Long, Huade Guan, Bridget Scanlon, Craig Simmons, Lei Jiang, Xiang Xu

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    Water-limited ecosystems, covering ~50% of the global land, are controlled primarily by hydrologic factors. Because climate change is predicted to markedly alter current hydroclimatic conditions later this century, a better hydrological indicator of ecosystem performance is warranted to improve understanding of hydrological controls on vegetation and to predict changes in the future. Here we show that the observed total water storage anomaly (TWSA) from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) can serve as this indicator. Using the Australian mainland as a case study, where ecosystems are generally water limited, we found that GRACE-observed TWSA can explain changes in surface greenness (as measured by the normalized difference vegetation index, NDVI) both interannually and seasonally. In addition, we found that TWSA shows a significant decreasing trend during the millennium drought from 1997 through 2009 in the region. However, decline in annual mean NDVI during the same period was mainly driven by decline in annual minimum monthly NDVI, whereas annual maximum monthly NDVI remained relatively constant across biomes. This phenomenon reveals an intrinsic sensitivity of ecosystems to water availability that drought-induced reductions in surface greenness are more likely expressed through its influence on vegetation during lower NDVI months, whereas ecosystem activities tend to recover to their maximum level during periods when the combined environmental conditions favor vegetation growth within a year despite the context of the prolonged drought. Key Points Change in total water storage is a good indicator of variability in greennessMonthly precipitation does not explain seasonal variations in greennessEvidence of annual ecosystem resilience during prolonged drought is found

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2245-2260
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


    • drought
    • Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment
    • hydrology
    • normalized difference vegetation index
    • surface vegetation
    • total water storage


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