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Using high resolution UAV thermal imagery to assess the variability in the water status of five fruit tree species within a commercial orchard

AuthorsGonzález-Dugo, Victoria ; Zarco-Tejada, Pablo J. ; Nicolás Nicolás, Emilio ; Nortes, Pedro Antonio ; Alarcón Cabañero, Juan José ; Intrigliolo, Diego S.; Fereres Castiel, Elías
Daily evolution
Canopy temperature
Remote sensing
Unmanned aerial vehicle
Issue DateDec-2013
CitationPrecision Agriculture 14(6): 660-678 (2013)
AbstractThis paper deals with the assessment of heterogeneity in water status in a commercial orchard, as a prerequisite for precision irrigation management. Remote sensing-derived indicators could be suitable for mapping water stress over large areas, and recent studies have demonstrated that high resolution airborne thermal imagery enables the assessment of discontinuous canopies as pure tree crowns can be targeted, thus eliminating the background effects. Airborne campaigns were conducted over a drip-irrigated commercial orchard in Southwestern Spain composed of five different orchard tree crops. An unmanned aerial vehicle with a thermal camera onboard was flown three times during the day on 8 July 2010, at 9, 11 and 13 h (local time). Stem water potential was measured at the same time of the flights. In some irrigation units, irrigation was stopped prior to the measurement date to induce water deficits for comparative purposes. Several approaches for using the thermal data were proposed. Daily evolution of the differential between canopy and air temperature (T c - T a) was compared to tree water status. The slope of the evolution of T c - T a with time was well correlated with water status and is proposed as a novel indicator linked with the stomatal behavior. The Crop Water Stress Index (CWSI) was calculated with the temperature data from the 13.00 h flight using an empirical approach for defining the upper and lower limits of T c - T a. The assessment of variability in water status was also performed using differences in relative canopy temperatures. Ample variability was detected among and within irrigation units, demonstrating that the approach proposed was viable for precision irrigation management. The assessment led to the identification of water-stressed areas, and to the definition of threshold CWSI values and associated risks. Such thresholds may be used by growers for irrigation management based on crop developmental stages and economic considerations. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York.
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