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EGU 2014: satellites provide golf-course healthcheck

by Liz Kalaugher

Since 1960, the golf industry in southern Portugal’s Algarve region has boomed, with the number of courses rising to 40. As the climate is Mediterranean and rain falls mainly in the winter, the golf lawns need irrigation during the rest of the year. But with precipitation rarely exceeding 500 mm a year, that puts pressure on water resources.

At this year’s EGU meeting in Vienna, Celestina Pedras from Portugal’s University of the Algarve and University of Lisbon explained how she has used data from Landsat to assess the health of the Algarve’s golf courses since the 1980s.

Lower values for the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) – a measure of greenness – indicated that the vegetation was undergoing more water stress. “That means that the greenkeepers are implementing water deficit strategies – saving water – and the grass still has a good appearance,” Pedras told environmentalresearchweb.

Pedras and colleagues have also used weather data to calculate daily evapotranspiration rates and predict irrigation demand; managers typically irrigate at 85% of the daily evapotranspiration rate.

The team believes monitoring of climate and NDVI in this way could help predict and reduce water consumption by the golf industry. This has boomed in the Algarve in line with the growth in the number of courses, rising from 4 million cubic metres in 1980 to 18 million cubic metres in 2010.

But in the ten years since the Millennium, Pedras explained, this water use has become more efficient with the introduction of measures such as deficit irrigation strategies, technology for measuring plant water demand, continuous monitoring of climate parameters, different types of grass, identifying hydrozones to group plants by their water needs, employing several sources of water for irrigation, and improving the knowledge of golf course maintenance employees.

As climate changes, it’s likely that the Algarve will see more drought so sustainable golf course management will become even more vital.

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