Semi-arid and arid systems cover one third of the earth’s land surface, and are becoming increasingly drier, but existing datasets do not capture all of the types of water resources that sustain these systems. In semi-arid environments, small surface water bodies and areas of mesic vegetation (wetlands, wet meadows, riparian zones) function as critical water resources. However, the most commonly-used maps of water resources are derived from the Landsat time series or single date aerial photographs, and are too coarse either spatially or temporally to effectively monitor water resource dynamics. In this study, we produced a Sentinel Fusion (SF) water resources product for a semi-arid mountainous region of the western United States, which includes monthly maps of both a) surface water and b) mesic vegetation at 10 m spatial resolution using freely available Earth observation data on an open access platform. We applied random forest classifiers to optical data from the Sentinel-2 time series, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data from the Sentinel-1 time series, and topographic variables. We compared our SF product with three commonly used and publicly available datasets in the western U.S. We found that our surface water class contained fewer omission errors than a leading global surface water product in (94 % producer’s accuracy (PA) vs 84 %) and comparable user’s accuracy (UA) (91 % vs 97 %) with commission errors occurring largely in mixed water pixels. Our mesic vegetation class had up to 43 % higher PAs compared to the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) estimates and up to 78 % higher UAs over the Sage Grouse Initiative mesic resources maps during the most critical part of the water year. We found that while inclusion of SAR data from the C-band Sentinel-1 sensor consistently improved estimates of water resources in each of the last four months of the 2021 water year when compared to optical-only + topographic variables, only in September did those improvements lie outside of the 95 % confidence interval. With nine times finer spatial resolution and more frequent image collection, our SF maps characterize intra-annual dynamics of smaller water bodies (< 30 m wide) and mesic vegetation integral to ecosystem functioning in semi-arid systems compared to leading Landsat-derived products. Further, our workflow is easily reproducible using freely available data on an open access platform, and can be adopted to help guide land use decisions related to water resources by farmers, ranchers, and conservationists in semi-arid environments.
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Kolarik, N. E.; Roopsind, A.; Pickens, A.; and Brandt, J. S. (2023). "A Satellite-Based Monitoring System for Quantifying Surface Water and Mesic Vegetation Dynamics in a Semi-Arid Region". Ecological Indicators, 147, 109965. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2023.109965