DroughtView: 'Swiss Army Knife' of Land Management

The website is helping environmental scientists, land management agents, ranchers and others better assess drought and wildfire danger.
April 11, 2017
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Funding and other support for DroughtView has come from NOAA, the USDA Southwest Climate Hub, Arizona Remote Sensing Center, CLIMAS, the Arizona Space Grant Consortium, and the Water, Environmental and Energy Solutions initiative.

A drought impact group, environmental scientists, plant geographers, federal and state land management agents, ranchers and others already have begun to use DroughtView.
A drought impact group, environmental scientists, plant geographers, federal and state land management agents, ranchers and others already have begun to use DroughtView.

The creative minds behind a new user-friendly website that lets ranchers see where the grass is greener on rangelands envision that the tool will be used in other applications, such as tracking wildfire danger.

The DroughtView website uses remote sensing imagery, which takes a vegetation picture of the Earth's surface, and then takes that satellite information to allow users to actually view surface greenness.

"It's a Swiss Army knife for land management out here in the Southwest," says Michael Crimmins, a UA Cooperative Extension associate specialist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"We can see where areas are 'brown,' and that will give us an indication of where there's fire risk. As fires burn, we can actually watch them on DroughtView," said Crimmins, also an associate professor of climate science in the UA Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences.

The site receives data from the moderate-resolution imaging spectroradiometer, or MODIS, satellite. While it measures what is on the Earth's surface, MODIS and other satellites may not be able to see beyond the cloud coverage.

DroughtView addresses the cloud-cover factor, says Jeremy Weiss, climate and geospatial extension scientist in the UA School of Natural Resources and the Environment, who works on the website along with Crimmins.

"DroughtView uses the best imagery during a 16-day period," Weiss says. "The compositing procedure selects the best image within that period, to minimize the effects of cloud contamination or other issues that come up in terms of data quality."

Another feature of the site is that users can enter information, based on their own observations of things such as plants and wildlife, under the "Reported Impacts" category.

A local drought impact group, environmental scientists, plant geographers, federal and state land management agents, and ranchers already are using the site.

Marques Munis, a district conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, who works with Arizona ranchers, says he has introduced the site to ranchers, finding it user-friendly and helpful.

"Ranchers are making management decisions all the time on when to move cattle to different pastures," Munis said. "DroughtView is another piece of information to understand what's going on in the landscape and how much a rancher can graze without hurting the plant community and also what's available for his cows and other wildlife that rely on those plants."

Crimmins says an older online tool using data collected by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, originally called RangeView, was the inspiration for DroughtView.

Website developers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, along with input from a team in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, worked to craft the technologically updated, mobile friendly, GPS-ready DroughtView site.

Crimmins says DroughtView illustrates the mission of UA Cooperative Extension, which is to take the science of the University and share it with the people of Arizona.

"It's the direct connection from high-level science to solving problems on the ground, taking a satellite in space and supporting a specific action at a ranch, at a park," Crimmins says. "It is the spirit of Cooperative Extension, literally on the ground, making the science useful, applying it and bringing it to the right scale."