A novel approach for long-term spectral monitoring of desert shrubs affected by an oil spill

Timea Ignat, Natalie De Falco, Reut Berger-Tal, Shimon Rachmilevitch, Arnon Karnieli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Crude oil pollution is a global environmental concern since it persists in the environment longer than most conventional carbon sources. In December 2014, the hyper-arid Evrona Nature Reserve, Israel, experienced large-scale contamination when crude oil spilled. The overarching goal of the study was to investigate the possible changes, caused by an accidental crude oil spill, in the leaf reflectance and biochemical composition of four natural habitat desert shrubs. The specific objectives were (1) to monitor the biochemical properties of dominant shrub species in the polluted and control areas; (2) to study the long-term consequences of the contamination; (3) to provide information that will assist in planning rehabilitation actions; and (4) to explore the feasibility of vegetation indices (VIs), along with the machine learning (ML) technique, for detecting stressed shrubs based on the full spectral range. Four measurement campaigns were conducted in 2018 and 2019. Along with the various stress indicators, field spectral measurements were performed in the range of 350–2500 nm. A regression analysis to examine the relation of leaf reflectance to biochemical contents was carried out, to reveal the relevant wavelengths in which polluted and control plants differ. Vegetation indices applied in previous studies were found to be less sensitive for indirect detection of long-term oil contamination. A novel spectral index, based on indicative spectral bands, named the “normalized blue-green stress index” (NBGSI), was established. The NBGSI distinguished significantly between shrubs located in the polluted and in the control areas. The NBGSI showed a strong linear correlation with pheophytin a. Machine learning classification algorithms obtained high overall prediction accuracy in distinguishing between shrubs located in the oil-polluted and the control sites, indicating internal component differences. The findings of this study demonstrate the efficacy of indirect and non-destructive spectral tools for detecting and monitoring oil pollution stress in shrubs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117788
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
StatePublished - 15 Nov 2021


  • Arid ecosystem
  • Environmental pollution
  • Machine learning
  • Spectroscopy
  • Vegetation stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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