A new approach to monitoring spatial distribution and dynamics of wetlands and associated flows of Australian Great Artesian Basin springs using QuickBird satellite imagery

This study develops an expedient digital mapping technique using Very High Resolution satellite imagery to monitor the temporal response of permanent wetland vegetation to changes in spring flow rates from the Australian Great Artesian Basin at Dalhousie Springs Complex, South Australia. Three epochs of QuickBird satellite multispectral imagery acquired between 2006 and 2010 were analysed using the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). A regression of 2009 NDVI values against vegetation cover from field botanical survey plots provided a relationship of increasing NDVI with increased vegetation cover (R2 = 0.86; p < 0.001). On the basis of this relationship a vegetation threshold was determined (NDVI P0.35), which discriminated perennial and ephemeral wetland vegetation from surrounding dryland vegetation in the imagery. The extent of wetlands for the entire Dalhousie Springs Complex mapped from the imagery increased from 607 ha in December 2006 to 913 ha in May 2009 and 1285 ha in May 2010. Comparison of the three NDVI images showed considerable localised change in wetland vegetation greenness, distribution and extent in response to fires, alien vegetation removal, rainfall and fluctuations in spring flow. A strong direct relationship (R2 = 0.99; p < 0.001) was exhibited between spring flow rate and the area of associated wetland vegetation for eight individual springs. This relationship strongly infers that wetland area is an indicator of spring flow and can be used for monitoring purposes. This method has the potential to determine the sensitivity of spring wetland vegetation extent and distribution to associated changes in spring flow rates due to land management and aquifer extractions. Furthermore, this approach is timely and provides reliable and repeatable monitoring, particularly needed given the projected increased demand for groundwater extractions from the GAB for mining operations.