Natural vegetation and crop-greening patterns in semi-arid savannas are commonly monitored using normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) values from low spatial resolution sensors such as the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) (1 km, 4 km) and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) (250 m, 500 m). However, because semi-arid savannas characteristically have scattered tree cover, the NDVI values at low spatial resolution suffer from the effect of aggregation of near-infrared and red energy from adjacent vegetated and non-vegetated cover types. This effect is seldom taken into consideration or quantified in NDVI analyses of the vegetation of semi-arid lands. This study examined the effect of pixel size on NDVI values of land-cover features for a semi-arid area, using the 1000 m, 250 m and 10 m pixel sizes. A rainy season Système Pour l'Observation de la Terre 5 (SPOT 5) High Resolution Geometric (HRG) image at 10 m spatial resolution was utilized. Following radiometric and geometric preprocessing, the 10 m pixel size of the image was aggregated to 250 m and 1000 m to simulate imagery at these pixel sizes, and then NDVI images at the spatial resolution scales of 10 m (NDVI₁₀ ₘ), 250 m (NDVI₂₅₀ ₘ), and 1000 m (NDVI₁₀₀₀ ₘ) derived from the respective images. The simulation of the NDVI₂₅₀ ₘ image was validated against a concurrent 16 day MODIS NDVI composite (MOD13Q1) image, and the accuracy derived from the validation was generalized to the NDVI₁₀₀₀ ₘ image. With change from low to high spatial resolution, extreme magnitude NDVI values shifted towards the centre (mode) of the resulting approximately Gaussian NDVI distributions. There was a statistically significant difference in NDVI values at the three pixel sizes. Low spatial magnitude vegetation sites (woodland, cropland) had reductions of up to 28% in NDVI value between the NDVI₁₀ ₘ and NDVI₁₀₀₀ ₘ scales. The results indicate that vegetation monitoring using low spatial resolution imagery in semi-arid savannas may only be indicative and needs to be supplemented by higher spatial resolution imagery.
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