Decline in Thermal Habitat Conditions for the Endangered Delta Smelt as Seen from Landsat Satellites (1985-2019)

Environ Sci Technol. 2022 Jan 4;56(1):185-193. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.1c02837. Epub 2021 Dec 21.


This study uses Landsat 5, 7, and 8 level 2 collection 2 surface temperature to examine habitat suitability conditions spanning 1985-2019, relative to the thermal tolerance of the endemic and endangered delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) and two non-native fish, the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) and Mississippi silverside (Menidia beryllina) in the upper San Francisco Estuary. This product was validated using thermal radiometer data collected from 2008 to 2019 from a validation site on a platform in the Salton Sea (RMSE = 0.78 °C, r = 0.99, R2 = 0.99, p < 0.01, and n = 237). Thermally unsuitable habitat, indicated by annual maximum water surface temperatures exceeding critical thermal maximum temperatures for each species, increased by 1.5 km2 yr-1 for the delta smelt with an inverse relationship to the delta smelt abundance index from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (r = -0.44, R2 = 0.2, p < 0.01). Quantile and Theil-Sen regression showed that the delta smelt are unable to thrive when the thermally unsuitable habitat exceeds 107 km2. A habitat unsuitable for the delta smelt but survivable for the non-natives is expanding by 0.82 km2 yr-1. Warming waters in the San Francisco Estuary are reducing the available habitat for the delta smelt.

Keywords: delta smelt; habitat compression; pelagic organism decline; remote sensing; water surface temperature.