Drought map of the continental USA for 2012
Contributor:B.A.E. Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo
File size:26 MB (1.5 MB Compressed download)
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Dimensions:4200 x 2162 px | 35.6 x 18.3 cm | 14 x 7.2 inches | 300dpi
Nearly two thirds of the contiguous United States was experiencing some level of drought by the end of August 2012, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 39 percent of the nation suffered from severe to extreme drought. Though the numbers changed a bit in mid-September, the drought parched much of the interior United States and left both domestic and wild animals scrounging for food. The browning and withering of vegetation in the United States and northern Mexico is clear in this vegetation anomaly map based on data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. The map contrasts plant health in August 2012 (the most recent full month available) against the average conditions between 2002 and 2012. Brown areas show where plant growth, or “greenness,” was below normal; greens indicate vegetation that is more widespread or abundant than normal for the time of year. Grays depict areas where data was not available. The map is based on the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), a measure of how plant leaves absorb visible light and reflect infrared light. Drought-stressed vegetation reflects more visible light and less infrared than healthy vegetation. “By far, this is the driest year we have seen since the launch of MODIS,” said Molly Brown, a vegetation and food security researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “I am struck by the extraordinary depth and spatial scale of this drought. There is very little fodder out there for animals to eat.” Farmers and ranchers across the country are expecting losses, and nearly two dozen states have been made eligible for drought aid. “The vegetation index helps us see how much or how little live plant material is out there,” said Brown. Regardless of how much rainfall an area gets or needs in a certain time period—and regardless of whether it is a forest, plains, mountain, or desert ecosystem—NDVI allows researchers to compare how green the landscape is with