Groundwater is a vital water resource in the arid to semi-arid southwestern United States. Accurate accounting of inflows to and outflows from the groundwater system is necessary to effectively manage this shared resource, including the important outflow component of groundwater discharge by vegetation. A simple method for estimating basin-scale groundwater discharge by vegetation is presented that uses remote sensing data from satellites, geographic information systems (GIS) land cover and stream location information, and a regression equation developed within the Southern Arizona study area relating the Enhanced Vegetation Index from the MODIS sensors on the Terra satellite to measured evapotranspiration. Results computed for 16-day composited satellite passes over the study area during the 2000 through 2007 time period demonstrate a sinusoidal pattern of annual groundwater discharge by vegetation with median values ranging from around 0.3 mm per day in the cooler winter months to around 1.5 mm per day during summer. Maximum estimated annual volume of groundwater discharge by vegetation was between 1.4 and 1.9 billion m3 per year with an annual average of 1.6 billion m3. A simplified accounting of the contribution of precipitation to vegetation greenness was developed whereby monthly precipitation data were subtracted from computed vegetation discharge values, resulting in estimates of minimum groundwater discharge by vegetation. Basin-scale estimates of minimum and maximum groundwater discharge by vegetation produced by this simple method are useful bounding values for groundwater budgets and groundwater flow models, and the method may be applicable to other areas with similar vegetation types.
Additional publication details
A simple method for estimating basin-scale groundwater discharge by vegetation in the basin and range province of Arizona using remote sensing information and geographic information systems