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Drying conditions in Switzerland – indication from a 35-year Landsat time-series analysis of vegetation water content estimates to support SDGs

Date: Oct. 22 2021

Exacerbated by climate change, Europe has experienced series of hot and dry summer since the beginning of the 21st century. The importance of land conditions became an international concern with a dedicated sustainable development goal (SDG), the SDG 15. It calls for developing and finding innovative solutions to follow and evaluate impacts of changing land conditions induced by various driving forces. In Switzerland, drought risk will significantly increase in the coming decades with severe consequences on agriculture, energy production and vegetation. In this paper, we used a 35-year satellite-derived annual and seasonal times-series of normalized difference water index (NDWI) to follow vegetation water content evolution at different spatial and temporal scales across Switzerland and related them to temperature and precipitation to investigate possible responses of changing climatic conditions. Results indicate that there is a small and slow drying tendency at the country scale with a NDWI mean decreasing slope of ?0.22%/year for the 23% significant pixels across Switzerland. This tendency is mostly visible below 2000 m above sea level (m.a.s.l.) and in all biogeographical regions. The Southern Alps regions appear to be more responsive to changing drying conditions with a significant and slight negative NDWI trend (?0.39%/year) over the last 35 years. Moreover, NDWI values are mostly a function of temperature at elevations below the tree line rather than precipitation. Findings suggest that multi-annual and seasonal NDWI can be a valuable indicator to monitor vegetation water content at different scales, but other components such as land cover type and evapotranspiration should be considered to better characterize NDWI variability. Satellite Earth Observations data can provide valuable complementary observations for national statistics on the ecological state of vegetation to support SDG 15 to monitor land affected by drying conditions.