Use of NDVI and land surface temperature for drought assessment: Merits and limitations

Arnon Karnieli, Nurit Agam, Rachel T. Pinker, Martha Anderson, Marc L. Imhoff, Garik G. Gutman, Natalya Panov, Alexander Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

474 Scopus citations


A large number of water- and climate-related applications, such as drought monitoring, are based on spaceborne-derived relationships between land surface temperature (LST) and the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). The majority of these applications rely on the existence of a negative slope between the two variables, as identified in site- and time-specific studies. The current paper investigates the generality of the LST-NDVI relationship over a wide range of moisture and climatic/radiation regimes encountered over the North American continent (up to 60°N) during the summer growing season (April-September). Information on LST and NDVI was obtained from long-term (21 years) datasets acquired with the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR). It was found that when water is the limiting factor for vegetation growth (the typical situation for low latitudes of the study area and during the midseason), the LST- NDVI correlation is negative. However, when energy is the limiting factor for vegetation growth (in higher latitudes and elevations, especially at the beginning of the growing season), a positive correlation exists between LST and NDVI. Multiple regression analysis revealed that during the beginning and the end of the growing season, solar radiation is the predominant factor driving the correlation between LST and NDVI, whereas other biophysical variables play a lesser role. Air temperature is the primary factor in midsummer. It is concluded that there is a need to use empirical LST-NDVI relationships with caution and to restrict their application to drought monitoring to areas and periods where negative correlations are observed, namely, to conditions when water-not energy-is the primary factor limiting vegetation growth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)618-633
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2010


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