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Research Review Reveals Limitations to Drought Impact Monitoring

Photo of Multiyear drought can kill trees outright or it can also increase mortality through related bark beetle activity and wildfire. In this aerial photo from California’s 2016 Cedar Fire, all three interrelated factors converge. Inciweb.org.Multiyear drought can kill trees outright or it can also increase mortality through related bark beetle activity and wildfire. In this aerial photo from California’s 2016 Cedar Fire, all three interrelated factors converge. Inciweb.org.Snapshot : A recently published review of drought monitoring discusses the fundamental challenges of detecting and monitoring drought impacts at broad scales, describes strengths and weaknesses of existing approaches for doing so, and presents methods for combining these approaches with supporting datasets to assess drought impacts across landscapes.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Norman, Steve 
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1094

Summary

Forests across the United States are under increasing stress from drought, yet researchers and land managers are limited in their ability to efficiently monitor drought impacts from any single data source, concludes a recently published drought monitoring review by scientists at the Forest Service’s Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center. When anticipating drought effects, forest monitors often start with meteorological measures of drought such as precipitation and temperature. However, these measures were primarily designed for predicting crop stress and yield. Trees and forest ecosystems respond in much more complex ways to drought stress, creating challenges for forest monitors to fully understand and measure drought impacts. Remote sensing methods, such as satellite imaging or aerial surveys, can track drought stress more directly, but these approaches are limited. As an additional complexity, drought can aggravate forest disturbances like bark beetles and fire, so these indirect drought impacts must be recognized as distinct but related. A more comprehensive "big data" approach that captures meteorological and remote sensing data as well as diverse datasets that cross monitoring scales would help forest monitors contextualize drought impacts and support management and restoration decisions.

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