The natural salt meadows of Tilopozo in the hyperarid, Atacama Desert of northern Chile, which are located at approximately 2800 m above sea level, are under pressure from industrial activity, and cultivation and grazing by local communities. In this research, the land surface covered by salt meadow vegetation was estimated from normalized difference vegetation indices (NDVI) derived from Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM), Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM+) and Operational Land Imager (OLI) data from 1985 to 2016. The vegetated area of the Tilopozo salt meadows decreased by 34 ha over the 32-year period studied. Multiple regression models of the area covered by vegetation and climate data and groundwater depths were derived on an annual basis, as well as for both the dry and wet seasons and had R2
values of 83.0%, 72.8% and 92.4% respectively between the vegetated areas modeled and those estimated from remotely sensed data. These models are potentially useful tools for studies into the conservation of the Tilopozo salt meadows, as they provide relevant information on the state of vegetation and enable changes in vegetation in response to fluctuations in climate parameters and groundwater depths to be predicted.
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