Characterization of droughts using satellite-based data and indices in a steep, highly dynamic tropical catchment, like Vu Gia Thu Bon, which is the most important basin in central Vietnam, has remained a challenge for many years. This study examined the six widely used vegetation indices (VIs) to effectively monitor droughts that are based on their sensitivity with precipitation, soil moisture, and their linkage with the impacts on agricultural crop production and forest fires. Six VIs representing the four main groups, including greenness-based VIs (Vegetation Condition Index), water-based VIs (Normalized Difference Water Index, Land Surface Water Index), temperature-based VIs (Temperature Condition Index), and combined VIs (Vegetation Health Index, Normalized Difference Drought Index) were tested using MODIS data from January 2001 to December 2016 with the support of cloud-based Google Earth Engine computational platform. Results showed that droughts happened almost every year, but with different intensity. Vegetation stress was found to be mainly attributed to precipitation in the rice paddy fields and to temperature in the forest areas. Findings revealed that combined vegetation indices were more sensitive drought indicators in the basin, whereas their performance was different by vegetation type. In the rice paddy fields, NDDI was more sensitive to precipitation than other indices; it better captured droughts and their impacts on crop yield. In the forest areas, VHI was more sensitive to temperature, and thus had better performance than other VIs. Accordingly, NDDI and VHI were recommended for monitoring droughts in the agricultural and forest lands, respectively. The findings from this study are crucial to map drought risks and prepare an effective mitigation plan for the basin.
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