Grassland, as the primary vegetation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, has been increasingly influenced by water availability due to climate change in last decades. Therefore, identifying the evolution of drought becomes crucial to the efficient management of grassland. However, it is not yet well understood as to the quantitative relationship between vegetation variations and drought at different time scales. Taking Qinghai Province as a case, the effects of meteorological drought on vegetation were investigated. Multi-scale Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) considering evapotranspiration variables was used to indicate drought, and time series Normal Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to indicate the vegetation response. The results showed that SPEI values at different time scales reflected a complex dry and wet variation in this region. On a seasonal scale, more droughts occurred in summer and autumn. In general, the NDVI presented a rising trend in the east and southwest part and a decreasing trend in the northwest part of Qinghai Province from 1998 to 2012. Hurst indexes of NDVI revealed that 69.2% of the total vegetation was positively persistent (64.1% of persistent improvement and 5.1% of persistent degradation). Significant correlations were found for most of the SPEI values and the one year lagged NDVI, indicating vegetation made a time-lag response to drought. In addition, one month lagged NDVI made an obvious response to SPEI values at annual and biennial scales. Further analysis showed that all multiscale SPEI values have positive relationships with the NDVI trend and corresponding grassland degradation. The study highlighted the response of vegetation to meteorological drought at different time scales, which is available to predict vegetation change and further help to improve the utilization efficiency of water resources in the study region.
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