Thirty years of vegetation change in the coastal Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California detected using landsat satellite image analysis

Map of the changes in NDVI between 1983 and 2013 for the Santa Cruz Mountain study area. Fire perimeters are outlined in rust. Cloud cover is masked as white. Source: Potter (2016).

By Christopher Potter


The Santa Cruz Mountains is a coastal landscape with a history of extensive forest logging, and a future with projected climate warming that may alter vegetation cover and surface water runoff in new ways. Results from Landsat satellite image time-series analysis since 1983 of this study area showed gradual, statistically significant increases in the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) in more than 90 % of the (predominantly second-growth) evergreen forest locations sampled. The cumulative distribution of NDVI values in 2013 was significantly different and higher overall from the cumulative distribution of NDVI values in 1983. The extreme drought year of 2013 (and other previous years of low precipitation) did not affect average NDVI growth rates in most drainage basins of the study area, with the exception of four relatively small basins that had less than 30 % forested land cover. Notably different patterns of NDVI change were detected in areas burned by wildfires in recent years. Within the perimeters of the 2008 Summit Fire and the 2009 Lockheed Fire, NDVI showed notable declines from pre-fire levels to those calculated in 2013 Landsat imagery. In contrast to these recent fires, the burned area from the 1985 Lexington Fire showed the highest rate of NDVI increase (over 27 years of regrowth) of any relatively large contiguous area within the Santa Cruz Mountains.

From Journal of Coastal Conservation , Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 51–59

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