Fallowing temporal patterns assessment in rainfed agricultural areas based on NDVI time series autocorrelation values
- International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
- Fallowing is a common practice in Mediterranean areas where water scarcity becomes a limiting factor, affecting soil productivity, crop yield and biodiversity. In mainland Spain, fallow lands expand across three million hectares every year, constituting around 30% of rainfed arable lands and 6% of the national surface. There is a need of monitoring fallow lands to better map land use intensity and therefore achieve a sustainable expansion and intensification of agriculture. However, most of current land use classification systems do not include lands under fallowing practices as a specific class. In this research, a new and highly operative methodology based on NDVI time series autocorrelation values to assess fallowing temporal patterns across rainfed agricultural areas is proposed. This approach was tested in mainland Spain, using the autocorrelation function of MODIS NDVI time series from 2001 to 2012 at 250 m spatial resolution. The field observational database from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was used for validation purposes. The dataset used includes 338 pixels with annual information about the cultivated and fallowed surface within the entire study period. It was demonstrated that specific autocorrelation values at lags corresponding to one, two, and three years contained relevant information to identify lands under fallowing practices and assess their temporal pattern. Integrating autocorrelation variables in a random forest model made it possible to improve the assessment. The classification results were in agreement with the field dataset with an overall accuracy higher than 80%. Results revealed that approximately half of rainfed agricultural areas were regularly cultivated and distributed mainly in the northwestern Spain. The other half mainly located across northeast, center and south of Spain, showed crop-fallow rotation patterns. This methodology is a promising technique to map land management intensity using the entire time series in a highly operative manner. It is expected that in the near future the availability of remote sensing time series with better spatial resolution will make it possible to improve the assessment of agricultural intensification.