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Journal of Arid Land  2021, Vol. 13 Issue (1): 40-55    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-021-0052-y
Research article     
Development of a large-scale remote sensing ecological index in arid areas and its application in the Aral Sea Basin
WANG Jie, LIU Dongwei*(), MA Jiali, CHENG Yingnan, WANG Lixin
School of Ecology and Environment, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot 010021, China
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The Aral Sea Basin in Central Asia is an important geographical environment unit in the center of Eurasia. It is of great significance to the ecological protection and sustainable development of Central Asia to carry out dynamic monitoring and effective evaluation of the eco-environmental quality of the Aral Sea Basin. In this study, the arid remote sensing ecological index (ARSEI) for large-scale arid areas was developed, which coupled the information of the greenness index, the salinity index, the humidity index, the heat index, and the land degradation index of arid areas. The ARSEI was used to monitor and evaluate the eco-environmental quality of the Aral Sea Basin from 2000 to 2019. The results show that the greenness index, the humidity index and the land degradation index had a positive impact on the quality of the ecological environment in the Aral Sea Basin, while the salinity index and the heat index exerted a negative impact on the quality of the ecological environment. The eco-environmental quality of the Aral Sea Basin demonstrated a trend of initial improvement, followed by deterioration, and finally further improvement. The spatial variation of these changes was significant. From 2000 to 2019, grassland and wasteland (saline alkali land and sandy land) in the central and western parts of the basin had the worst ecological environment quality. The areas with poor ecological environment quality are mainly distributed in rivers, wetlands, and cultivated land around lakes. During the period from 2000 to 2019, except for the surrounding areas of the Aral Sea, the ecological environment quality in other areas of the Aral Sea Basin has been improved in general. The correlation coefficients between the change in the eco-environmental quality and the heat index and between the change in the eco-environmental quality and the humidity index were -0.593 and 0.524, respectively. Climate conditions and human activities have led to different combinations of heat and humidity changes in the eco-environmental quality of the Aral Sea Basin. However, human activities had a greater impact. The ARSEI can quantitatively and intuitively reflect the scale and causes of large-scale and long-time period changes of the eco-environmental quality in arid areas; it is very suitable for the study of the eco-environmental quality in arid areas.

Key wordseco-environmental quality      arid remote sensing ecological index      Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)      landscape changes      remote sensing monitoring      Central Asia     
Received: 13 May 2020      Published: 10 January 2021
Corresponding Authors: LIU Dongwei     E-mail:
About author: *LIU Dongwei (E-mail:
Cite this article:

WANG Jie, LIU Dongwei, MA Jiali, CHENG Yingnan, WANG Lixin. Development of a large-scale remote sensing ecological index in arid areas and its application in the Aral Sea Basin. Journal of Arid Land, 2021, 13(1): 40-55.

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Fig. 1 Overview and land cover types of the study area. ASB, Aral Sea Basin.
Product name Product function Temporal resolution Spatial resolution
MOD09A1 Surface reflectance 8 d 500 m
MOD11A2 Surface temperature 8 d 1000 m
MOD13A3 Vegetation index Monthly 1000 m
MCD12Q1 Land cover type Yearly 500 m
ASTER-GDEM Digital elevation 30 m
Table 1 Product names, product functions, and temporal and spatial resolutions of the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data
Land use type Vegetation coverage Land degradation intensity
Slope<5° 5°≤Slope<8° 8°≤Slope<15° 15°≤Slope<25° 25°≤Slope<35° Slope≥35°
Forest and grassland >75% Slight Slight Slight Slight Slight Slight
60%-75% Slight Mild Mild Mild Moderate Moderate
45%-60% Slight Mild Mild Moderate Moderate Intense
30%-45% Slight Mild Moderate Moderate Intense Extreme
<30% Slight Moderate Moderate Intense Extreme Violent
Farmland - Slight Mild Moderate Intense Extreme Violent
Table 2 Land degradation intensity of different land use types with different levels of coverage and slope
Land degradation index Land degradation intensity
Slight Mild Moderate Intense Extreme Violent
Value 0.0513 0.0412 0.1302 0.2650 0.5123 0.6342
Table 3 Land degradation index values of different land degradation intensities
Year PC G H S He LD Accumulated contribution rate (%)
2000 PC1 -0.232 -0.332 0.232 0.623 -0.669 80.879
2005 PC1 -0.284 -0.323 0.226 0.733 -0.527 82.818
2010 PC1 -0.325 -0.365 0.372 0.696 -0.526 83.783
2015 PC1 -0.277 -0.321 0.275 0.667 -0.613 82.418
2019 PC1 -0.389 -0.382 0.366 0.620 -0.563 82.151
Table 4 Contribution weights of the five indices in the arid remote-sensing ecological index (ARSEI) in 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2019
Level 2000 2005 2010 2015 2019
(×104 km2)
P (%) Area
(×104 km2)
P (%) Area
(×104 km2)
P (%) Area
(×104 km2)
P (%) Area
(×104 km2)
P (%)
Worst 135.114 70.797 125.376 65.694 127.723 66.924 132.463 69.408 123.783 64.860
Poor 39.128 20.502 42.916 22.487 41.547 21.770 42.597 22.320 43.177 22.624
General 15.529 8.137 20.318 10.646 19.965 10.461 14.728 7.717 22.516 11.798
Good 1.036 0.543 2.181 1.143 1.565 0.820 1.010 0.529 1.326 0.695
Best 0.041 0.022 0.057 0.030 0.048 0.025 0.050 0.026 0.046 0.024
Total 190.848 100.001 190.848 100.000 190.848 100.000 190.848 100.000 190.848 100.001
Table 5 Areas and percentages of the different eco-environmental quality classifications in the Aral Sea Basin in 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2019 determined using the ARSEI
Fig. 2 Area percentages of the different grades of the eco-environmental quality change in the Aral Sea Basin determined using the arid remote sensing ecological index (ARSEI) variance in 2000-2005, 2005-2010, 2010-2015, 2015-2019, and 2000-2019. U3, significantly better; U2, obviously better; U1, slightly better; D1, slightly worse; D2, obviously worse; D3, significantly worse.
Fig. 3 Eco-environmental quality classification of the Aral Sea Basin obtained using the ARSEI in 2000 (a), 2005 (b), 2010 (c), 2015 (d), and 2019 (e)
Index Variance of the eco-environmental quality
2000-2005 2005-2010 2010-2015 2015-2019 2000-2019
G 0.299 0.262 0.495 0.442 0.257
H 0.444 0.415 0.449 0.405 0.524
He -0.722 -0.517 -0.774 -0.682 -0.593
S -0.300 -0.263 -0.496 -0.443 -0.258
LD 0.179 0.137 0.068 0.133 0.191
PRE 0.500 0.131 0.186 - 0.272
TEM -0.485 -0.527 -0.405 - -0.472
EVA -0.173 -0.099 -0.417 - -0.230
IWD_CON - -0.476 -0.534 - -0.505
IWD_WIN - -0.487 -0.520 - -0.504
Table 6 Correlation coefficients between the variance of the eco-environmental quality and the indices in the Aral Sea Basin in 2000-2005, 2005-2010, 2010-2015, 2015-2019, and 2000-2019 based on Pearson correlation analysis
Fig. 4 Changes in the intensity of the regional eco-environmental quality in the Aral Sea Basin determined using the ARSEI in 2000-2019. U3, significantly better; U2, obviously better; U1, slightly better; D1, slightly worse; D2, obviously worse; D3, significantly worse.
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