US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Remote Sensing of Environment 149 (2014) 155–165


This article is a U.S. government work, and is not subject to copyright in the United States.


Agricultural production capacity contributes to food security in Afghanistan and is largely dependent on irrigated farming, mostly utilizing surface water fed by snowmelt. Because of the high contribution of irrigated crops (>80%) to total agricultural production, knowing the spatial distribution and year-to-year variability in irrigated areas is imperative to monitoring food security for the country. We used 16-day composites of the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor to create 23-point time series for each year from 2000 through 2013. Seasonal peak values and time series were used in a threshold-dependent decision tree algorithm to map irrigated areas in Afghanistan for the last 14 years. In the absence of ground reference irrigated area information, we evaluated these maps with the irrigated areas classified from multiple snapshots of the landscape during the growing season fromLandsat 5 optical and thermal sensor images.Wewere able to identify irrigated areas using Landsat imagery by selecting as irrigated those areas with Landsat-derived NDVI greater than 0.30–0.45, depending on the date of the Landsat image and surface temperature less than or equal to 310 Kelvin (36.9 °C). Due to the availability of Landsat images, we were able to compare with the MODIS-derived maps for four years: 2000, 2009, 2010, and 2011. The irrigated areas derived fromLandsat agreed well r2=0.91 with the irrigated areas derived fromMODIS, providing confidence in the MODIS NDVI threshold approach. The maps portrayed a highly dynamic irrigated agriculture practice in Afghanistan, where the amount of irrigated area was largely determined by the availability of surface water, especially snowmelt, and varied by as much as 30% between water surplus and water deficit years. During the past 14 years, 2001, 2004, and 2008 showed the lowest levels of irrigated area (~1.5 million hectares), attesting to the severe drought conditions in those years, whereas 2009, 2012 and 2013 registered the largest irrigated area (~2.5 million hectares) due to record snowpack and snowmelt in the region. The model holds promise the ability to provide near-real-time (by the end of the growing seasons) estimates of irrigated area,which are beneficial for food securitymonitoring aswell as subsequent decisionmaking for the country. While the model is developed for Afghanistan, it can be adoptedwith appropriate adjustments in the derived threshold values to map irrigated areas elsewhere.