Review of broad-scale drought monitoring of forests: Toward an integrated data mining approach
Efforts to monitor the broad-scale impacts of drought on forests often come up short. Drought is a direct stressor of forests as well as a driver of secondary disturbance agents, making a full accounting of drought impacts challenging. General impacts can be inferred from moisture deficits quantified using precipitation and temperature measurements. However, derived meteorological indices may not meaningfully capture drought impacts because drought responses can differ substantially among species, sites and regions. Meteorology-based approaches also require the characterization of current moisture conditions relative to some specified time and place, but defining baseline conditions over large, ecologically diverse regions can be as difficult as quantifying the moisture deficit itself. In contrast, remote sensing approaches attempt to observe immediate, secondary, and longer-term changes in vegetation response, yet they too are no panacea. Remote sensing methods integrate responses across entire mixed-vegetation pixels and rarely distinguish the effects of drought on a single species, nor can they disentangle drought effects from those caused by various other disturbance agents. Establishment of suitable baselines from remote sensing may be even more challenging than with meteorological data. Here we review broadscale drought monitoring methods, and suggest that an integrated data-mining approach may hold the most promise for enhancing our ability to resolve drought impacts on forests. A big-data approach that integrates meteorological and remotely sensed data streams, together with other datasets such as vegetation type, wildfire occurrence and pest activity, can clarify direct drought effects while filtering indirect drought effects and consequences. This strategy leverages the strengths of meteorology-based and remote sensing approaches with the aid of ancillary data, such that they complement each other and lead toward a better understanding of drought impacts.