NWRA Webinars


Monitoring Drought and Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems in the Cloud: From Archives to Answers

A presentation with Justin Huntington, Ph.D.


Groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs) rely on the presence of subsurface or surficial expressions of groundwater. These systems are receiving more attention as temperature increases, droughts are more extreme, and where groundwater development captures natural discharge for anthropogenic use. Phreatophyte shrublands, meadows, springs, and riparian areas are GDEs that provide critical habitat for many sensitive species, especially in arid and semi-arid environments. While GDEs are vital for ecosystem services and function, their long-term (i.e. ~30 years) spatial and temporal variability is poorly understood with respect to local and regional scale hydrometeorology, groundwater management, and rangeland management.  In this work we analyze maps and time series of vegetation vigor from Landsat 5, 7 and 8 for evaluating the effectiveness of GDE restoration and conservation efforts, and for identifying potential impacts from climate variability, land management, and groundwater development. Google’s Earth Engine cloud computing and environmental monitoring platform is used to rapidly access and analyze the Landsat archive along with downscaled North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS) gridded weather data of solar radiation, surface air temperature, humidity, wind speed, and precipitation, which are used for both atmospheric correction and correlation analysis. Results of continuous Landsat time series analysis and spatial anomaly mapping clearly illustrate that there are strong correlations between vegetation vigor and climate variability, depth to groundwater, land management, and restoration.

To make cloud computing of remote sensing and climate archives more assessable to scientists and land managers, the Desert Research Institute and University of Idaho, in partnership with Google, has developed ClimateEngine.org, a web application that uses Google's Earth Engine cloud computing platform to enable users to quickly compute and visualize drought and vegetation vigor products for improved place-based monitoring and early warning of drought. The application is currently being used by several federal, state, local agencies, NGOs, and research institutions to monitor agricultural and hydrological drought and ecosystem health. Internationally, the ClimateEngine.org team is working with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) to develop fast and versatile tools that use Earth Engine for monitoring agricultural drought over broad areas at risk of food insecurity. Climate Engine was recently unveiled at the White House Water Summit in March 2016.

March 28, 2017

9:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.

NWRA Members - $15
Non-Members - $25
Students - $10



Header photo by LEO DROZDOFF, Director, Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources