Estimating Leaf Water Potential of Giant Sequoia Trees from Airborne Hyperspectral Imagery

Thursday, 17 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Emily Jane Francis, Stanford Earth Sciences, Stanford, CA, United States and Gregory Paul Asner, Carnegie Institution for Science Washington, Washington, DC, United States
Recent drought-induced forest dieback events have motivated research on the mechanisms of tree survival and mortality during drought. Leaf water potential, a measure of the force exerted by the evaporation of water from the leaf surface, is an indicator of plant water stress and can help predict tree mortality in response to drought. Scientists have traditionally measured water potentials on a tree-by-tree basis, but have not been able to produce maps of tree water potential at the scale of a whole forest, leaving forest managers unaware of forest drought stress patterns and their ecosystem-level consequences. Imaging spectroscopy, a technique for remote measurement of chemical properties, has been used to successfully estimate leaf water potentials in wheat and maize crops and pinyon-pine and juniper trees, but these estimates have never been scaled to the canopy level. We used hyperspectral reflectance data collected by the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) to map leaf water potentials of giant sequoia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in an 800-hectare grove in Sequoia National Park. During the current severe drought in California, we measured predawn and midday leaf water potentials of 48 giant sequoia trees, using the pressure bomb method on treetop foliage samples collected with tree-climbing techniques. The CAO collected hyperspectral reflectance data at 1-meter resolution from the same grove within 1-2 weeks of the tree-level measurements. A partial least squares regression was used to correlate reflectance data extracted from the 48 focal trees with their water potentials, producing a model that predicts water potential of giant sequoia trees. Results show that giant sequoia trees can be mapped in the imagery with a classification accuracy of 0.94, and we predicted the water potential of the mapped trees to assess 1) similarities and differences between a leaf water potential map and a canopy water content map produced from airborne hyperspectral data, 2) spatial variability in leaf water potentials and, 3) relationships between water potential and tree leaf area, topography, and surrounding tree density. These results will help forest managers plan prescribed burns to maintain the health of giant sequoia trees during drought.