Cheyenne Bottoms: A View from Space

A student presentation by
Lori Bird
December 2007
This webpage project was created in partial completion for the ES 771 Remote Sensing course at Emporia State University

LSAT image Summer, 2007. Image obtained from GloVis

The Wildlife Area

Remote Imagery

Climate Changes

Remote Monitoring




Cheyenne Bottoms is a world renowned wildlife refuge located in central Kansas on the Walnut River. Over the past decade the refuge, along with much of the state, had experienced a severe drought. The effects of this drought could be seen in the decline of wetlands associated with the refuge, as well the proliferation of undesirable vegetation. In 2007, some parts of central Kansas received over thirteen inches of rain from March through July. This deluge of water, though welcomed, overran Cheyenne Bottoms reserves, creating another state of crisis. Wildlife areas were flooded for months, preventing many bird species from using their traditional breeding/nesting grounds. Satellite images help document the stark contrast between the drought and flood. Remote sensing data will allow scientists to identify the wide-ranging effects of these two periods and aid in the management decisions concerning the wildlife area.

Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area

The Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area is a vital stop for migratory birds in North America. The area has been designated a RAMSAR site, an international designation given to major wildlife areas. Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area is managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and covers over 19,000 acres. The wildlife area is part of a 41,000-acre natural land sink northeast of Great Bend. The Nature Conservancy manages acres adjacent to the Wildlife area.

Watershed maps courtesy of Geodata. Physiographical map courtesy of the Kansas Geological Survey KGS


Remote Images of Cheyenne Bottoms

Remote imagery has allowed scientists to study Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. The National Aerial Photography Program (NAPP) and National High Altitude Photography (NHAP) programs produce orthorectified land images every five years. These images aerial images, along with other remote imagery produced by the government, are available on-line from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Global Visualization Viewer GloVis

NAPP and NHAP images from 2003, 1981 and 1985. Images courtesy of GloVis

With the advent of satellite data streams, and their on-line access, remote images have become important tools for environmental managers and researchers. Several programs have been key players in building this database of information. Landsat images, for instance, have provided a visual, scientific, and historical record for over 35 years. Remote imagery especially lends itself to documenting climatic changes, which can result in the widespread redistribution of water, land use, flora and fauna. For remote imagery to be meaningful, it must be correlated with groundwork and in situ field observation. The HYper SPatial Imagery of Rural Environment (HYSPIRE) is a cooperative effort between NASA and several Kansas universities to correlate ground observations with satellite data. HYSPIRE chose Cheyenne Bottoms as a research subject in 2002-2004. This project laid the groundwork for remote monitoring of the wildlife preserve.


Climate Changes: A Progressive View

Between 2000 and 2006, a large portion of the central Kansas experienced a drop in precipitation. Cheyenne Bottoms was greatly effected by the lack of precipitation. Initially, the drop in water made it easier for wildlife managers to control undesirable vegetation (cattails) that had taken over many of the holding area. As these areas dried out, the cattails died. This allowed managers to burn or cut the dead stalks and remove them. However, the drought continued and left many of the holding areas dry. Landsat remote imagery captured regular images documenting the progression of the drought.

LSAT4-TM images taken on 4/1, 5/3, 6/20, 7/22, 9/8, 11/11, of 2005 and 4/20/06. Images courtesy of GloVis

Central Kansas experienced record amounts of precipitation in 2007. The area was covered with snow early in the year. Storms in March and throughout May flooded many areas including Cheyenne Bottoms. Since the wildlife area is located in a natural depression, the excess water flowed intothe area. The local ground was saturated and the water had no where to go. It remained in the wildlife area all summer, gradually recharging the groundwater or evaporating. The water flooded waterfowl breeding and feeding areas. The extent of the flooding in the wildlife areas can be seen in the Landsat imagery.

LSAT4-TM 2007 images taken on 4/23, 5/25, 6/10, 7/12, 7/28, 8/13 and 9/30 (path 29 row 33). Images courtesy of GloVis.


Remote Monitoring of the Wildlife Area

Other remote sensing tools provide researchers with additional information. ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) is an instrument aboard the Terra satellite. ASTER captures land surface temperature, reflectance and elevation data daily. The ASTER images have a higher resolution than Landsat. A survey of ASTER images reflect the drastic changes between 2006-2007. In ASTER images, the image is created using near infrared data in the red band. Since active vegetation reflects near infrared energy, it appears red. Allowances should be made for seasonal variance. In April, the vegetation is actively growing, while in the summer, many plants suffered heat stress and become dormant. In comparing the images from 2005, 2006 and 2007, there is a marked increase in vegetation in the 2007 image. (Note also that some areas are flooded and the water prevents plants from growing).

ASTER images acquired on 7/30/05, 4/12/06, 5/14/06, 7/17/06, and 8/12/07. Images courtesy of USGS at GloVis

A disadvantage of many remote sensing platforms is the delay in receiving the data from the managing programs. The need for real-time remote sensing imagery is especially critical in emergencies. Catastrophic floods and fires require real-time or near time images. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Rapid Response System website fulfills this need. Real-time images are not orthorectifed. But geometrically corrected images are available within the day. Other products on this website include a true color images (bands 1,4,3), snow images(3,6,7), vegetation burn images(7,2,1), Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and land surface temperature (LST). The resolution of the images depends on the product. It ranges from 250 m to 2 km. These images can be used to analyze the vegetation and water at Cheyenne Bottoms.

Various images of Cheyenne Bottoms obtained from the MODIS Rapid Respose System, 2007.


Conclusion: Remote Sensing as Tool

Remote sensing has become an invaluable aid in studying the environment. The data collected remotely complements ground and field work. A historical record of thirty five plus years gives scientists the ability to attempt to model natural systems. Timely images allow for more informed decisions and responses, especially in crisis situation. The advent of interactive databases provides the ability to view data graphically. Thus, complex data can be presented in an easily managed, readily understood platform. Remote sensing provides a timely, cost effective tool for studying and managing ecosystems and can readily be applied to the management of Cheyenne Bottoms.



Aber, J, S, HYSPIRE, accessed December, 2007.

Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, (ASTER) accessed December, 2007.

Geodata website, Geodata, accessed December,2007.

Jenson, J., Remote Sensing of the Environment, Prentice Hall, 2007.

Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, MODIS Rapid Response System, MODIS, accessed December, 2007

USGS Global Visualization Viewer, GloVis, accessed December, 2007