Online Drought Indicators and Indices

Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI)


Index name: Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI) and Land Surface Water Index (LSWI).

Ease of use: Green.

Origins: Developed from work done by Gao in the mid-1990s at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Space Center in the United States.

Characteristics: Very similar to the NDVI methodology, but uses the near-infrared channel to monitor the water content of the vegetation canopy. Changes in the vegetation canopy are used to identify periods of drought stress.

Input parameters: Satellite information in the various channels of the near-infrared spectrum.

Applications: Used for monitoring of drought affecting agriculture as a method of stress detection.

Strengths: High resolution and good spatial coverage over all terrains. Different to NDVI, as the two indices look at different signals.

Weaknesses: Stress to plant canopies can be caused by impacts other than drought, and it is difficult to discern them using only NDWI. The period of record for satellite data is short, with climatic studies being difficult.

Resources: The methodology is described in the literature as are the calculations based on the MODIS data being used,


Chandrasekar, K., M.V.R. Sesha Sai, P.S. Roy and R.S. Dwevedi, 2010: Land Surface Water index (LSWI) response to rainfall and NDVI using the MODIS vegetation index product. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 31:3987–4005.

Gao, B.C., 1996: NDWI—a Normalized Difference Water Index for remote sensing of vegetation liquid water from space. Remote Sensing of Environment, 58(3):257–266.

Note: The NDWI concept and calculations are very similar to those of the Land Surface Water Index (LSWI).

  1. Aung Si Thu
    August 4, 2017 Reply

    The limitation of four indices(LSWI,NDFI,MLSWI,EVI andDVEL)
    May I know the limitations of land surface water index,Normalized difference flood index,Normalized difference water index, Modified land surface water index,Enhance vegetation index and DVEL=LSWI-EVI. ……………………………………… THANKS

    1. Robert Stefanski
      August 30, 2017 Reply

      For each index, there is a statement on the weaknesses. Please go to the web page of each index. Also, please look at the references provided. We are trying to make links to all of the references, but this will take some time. We do not have information on some the indices that you have mentioned.

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