Large area assessment of vegetation conditions is a major requirement for understanding the impact of weather on food, fiber, and forage production. The distribution of vegetation is largely associated with climate, terrain characteristics, and human activity. The interpretation of vegetation dynamics from satellite data can be improved by stratifying the land surface into ecoregions. The Soil Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, has developed a system for mapping major land resource areas (MLRA) that groups land areas in the United States on the basis of climate, physiography, land use, and land cover characteristics.
In 1989, the U.S. Geological Survey used National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellite data to conduct a biweekly assessment of vegetation conditions in 17 western states. Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer data were acquired daily, and were geographically registered, and the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) was computed for the Western United States during the 1989 growing season. Fifteen biweekly NDVI data sets were used to evaluate MLRA's as an appropriate stratification for monitoring and interpreting vegetation conditions in the study area.
The results demonstrate the feasibility of using MLRA's to stratify areas for monitoring phenological development and vegetation condition assessment within the growing season. Assessments of the NDVI at biweekly intervals are adequate for monitoring seasonal growth patterns on MLRA's where rangelands, forests, or cultivated agriculture are the primary resource type. Descriptive statistics are indicators of the uniformity or diversity of land use and land cover within an MLRA. Growing season profiles of the NDVI are characterized by the seasonal effects of climate on various land use and land cover classes.