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Journal of Range Management

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The great spatial extent of rangelands combined with recent emphasis on rangeland health has prompted a need for more efficient and cost effective management tools. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor of the Earth Observing System (EOS) will offer improved and more timely monitoring of rangeland vegetation, and, unlike any previous satellite sensor, the publicly available MODIS data stream will include estimates of rangeland productivity. These estimations of rangeland productivity can be used regionally for measuring biomass production and will be available every eight-days, with global coverage at 1- km^ resolution. MODIS derived estimates of rangeland productivity combine remote sensing information with daily meteorological data as inputs to a mathematical model of photosynthetic conversion of solar radiation into plant carbohydrates. Vegetation productivity is .a measure of rangeland vegetation vigor and growth capacity, which are important components of rangeland management and health assessment. Using MODIS data, it will be possible to characterize rangeland vegetation seasonality, estimate herbage quantity and, monitor the rates and trends of change in primary production. Consistent, objective and frequent productivity estimates will be available for even the most inaccessible rangelands.

Potential applications of weekly and annual productivity estimates are demonstrated on the Shoshone BLM Administrative District and a larger portion of the Interior Northwestern United States. Productivity estimates were derived using Advanced Very High-Resolution Radiometer data as a surrogate for the MODIS data stream. Shrub and grassland vegetation seasonality for 1991 was characterized. Herbage quantity was estimated from the 1993 shrub and grassland regional net primary production. A 5-year average productivity from 1990 - 1994 and departures from that average were calculated for the years 1991 and 1993. The measures of departure indicated that 1991 was regionally less productive and 1993 more productive than the five year average.

Collaboration between rangeland scientists and managers is necessary to realize the potential for EOS-derived vegetation productivity as a management tool. Future research will include field calibration of the productivity algorithms and exploration of new techniques for using EOS-derived productivity measures for rangeland management. Measures of rangeland productivity could become part of an integrated rangeland system analysis. This may permit differentiation between anthropogenic, biotic, and abiotic factors as the primary cause of declining productivity. Other research may include customization of biome properties for selected regions.