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Application of Gis Techniques in Frost Risk Mapping For Mitigating

Agricultural Losses

Susan Malaso KOTIKOT & 2 Prof. Simon ONYWERE

Key Words: Frost risk assessment, MODIS LST, Mapping, Convexity, Concavity, Elevation,
Growing season, Crop Susceptibility

Frost is a common agricultural hazard within the Aberdares and Mt Kenya regions that has
led to huge losses for farmers due to crop damage. This is aggravated by lack of adequate
information on frost to cushion farmers and decision makers against losses. This research,
maps frost hotspots within the Aberdare and Mt. Kenya regions while identifying the extent
of croplands at risk of frost damage so as to establish the implication of frost occurrence on
food security and economic development. It also established the trend of minimum
temperature occurrences within the region in order to identify any existing patterns in frost
occurrences from the year 2000 to 2013. Minimum temperature values were extracted from
monthly MODIS LST datasets using ENVI 4.7 software and frost risk categorized into very
severe frost (<250K), severe frost (250-260K), moderate frost (260-270K), minor frost
pockets (270-280K) and areas of no frost (>280K) using ENVI 4.7 decision tree classifiers.
Frost was found to concentrate around the Aberdares and Mt. Kenya regions. Elevation, land
surface convexity as well as high rainfall are some of the factors that were found out to
influence its occurrence. Time series analysis of minimum monthly temperatures done in
Excel showed recurrent patterns of minimum temperature occurrences in the months of April,
May, July, August and November. The study proposes adoption of resilient crop cultivars,
use of manual protective measures as well as site selection based on crop susceptibility as
well as land surface curvature in order to avert the losses and ensure maximum crop
production hence sufficient food supplies.
1.0 Introduction
Frost is the occurrence of an air temperature of 0C or lower, measured at a height of between
1.25 and 2.0 m above ground, inside an appropriate weather shelter (FAO, 2005). A study
done by Cornel Cooperative Extension (1995) showed that frost is formed when surface
temperature drops below 00C and water vapor in the atmosphere condenses and freezes. Each
plant has a threshold to which it is damaged by the decreasing temperatures (critical
temperatures). Depending on the specie and cultivar, frost damage to crops may occur at
lower temperatures (Hijmans, 1997-1998). Based on its effect on plants, Koss, et al., 1988,
classifies freeze temperatures ranging from a light freeze of 29 F to 32 F, where the tender
plants and crops are killed. A moderate freeze ranging from 25 F to 28 F, which is widely
destructive to most plant species and heavily, damages the tender fruit blossoms and semi
hardy plants. Severe freeze on the other hand, is experienced at temperatures of 24F and less
and damages most of the plants while freezing the grounds.

According to FAO (2005), frost damage is the leading weather hazard, on a planetary scale,
as far as agricultural and forest economic losses are concerned. It damages leaves and or fruit,
impact crop health and cause death of plants, depending on the severity of a frost and the
susceptibility of a particular crop.
Agriculture continues to dominate as the mainstay for the economies of many developing
countries. It is the single most important sector of the economy in Kenya supporting over
80% of the total population (NEMA, 2009). According to Geerts, et al., (2006), recent
advances in agricultural technologies may not avail much if agricultural production still
depends on weather and climate. This is because climatic variability is now playing a greater
role in limiting production of sufficient food supplies to match the present population growth
rates. In the recent past, Kenya has suffered from frost cases that led to huge losses most of
which was borne by farmers in the Kenyan highlands. With 20% of Kenyan land being
arable, and 80% arid and semi arid (NEMA, 2009), there is need to limit losses that occur in
the high agricultural potential areas, and cushion farmers through proper agricultural
planning, provision of advisory services and or issuance of insurance against the increasingly
recurrent frost incidences. To reduce agricultural losses, decision makers need up-to-date
information on crop management and protection against natural agricultural hazards such as
frost, drought and hailstorm among others.
Farmers in Nyeri, Nyandarua and Lari have in the past suffered huge losses amounting to
millions of shilling as a result of an overnight frost. As a result, USAID, Kenya Horticultural
Competiveness project has taken management measures to assist the farmers at the foot of
Mt. Kenya by encouraging them to plant trees, diversify crops, adopt green house
technologies and practice drip irrigation (USAID-KHP Monthly Bulletin January 2012
paper). These are among the management practices that involve modification of the crop
physical environment that farmers can adopt to mitigate the losses.
Most frost events occur during clear and calm nights (Kalma, 1983). They are influenced by
terrain aspects combined with meteorological factors such as wind, clouds and humidity. An
experiment by Laughlin, et al., (1985) verified that cloud cover, wind and elevation, could be
combined in an equation to give a good prediction of the expected minimum ground
temperature at any particular site at night. Because cold air flow downs lope, much like
water, the valley floors and lower portions of the slopes are colder (Richards, 2003). This
makes frost risk assessments relevant for agricultural climatic hazard mapping.
Varied methodologies have been applied in mapping temperature variations in the past
(Richards, 2003). Long term weather station temperature recordings have been used to
produce frost risk maps of the Altiplano in Peru, in Israel by Balma et al., 1992 and Lomas et
al., 1982, Avissar and Mahrer in 1988 (Richards, 2003). Kalma et al., 1992 used mobile
temperature surveys and elevation models. Recently MODIS remotely sensed data was used
by Pouteau et al., 2011to estimate the probability of frost occurrence over the arid Andean
highlands of Bolivia.
The current paper shows the role satellite imagery technologies can play in frost risk
mapping. It evaluates factors that facilitate occurrence of frost within the Aberdare and Mt.
Kenya region and explains the trend of minimum temperature occurrences and probabilities

of frost risk. This is useful in mainstreaming resilient crop cultivars in the region. It further
establishes the implications of frost occurrence on crop production and therefore impact on
food security in the region.
2.0 Study area Characteristics
The study area is located within the Kenyan highlands, one of the major water towers in
Kenya and consisting the Aberdare forest and national park. Spatially, the area covers four
counties, Nyandarua, Kiambu, Muranga and Nyeri counties. A 15 km buffer was however
introduced in order to include variations in altitude and topography beyond the high altitude
Aberdare ranges. The area is located between the latitudes: 0016'53.51"N and 01027'44.71"S
and longitudes: 3603'25.51'E and 37033'24.90"E. The study area is approximately 21399km2.
The altitudes of the study area range from 948m to 5065m in Mt. Kenya and 3900m in the
The topography is characterized by mountain ranges, strong local variations and feature
elevations resulting in an undulating topography including valley systems. This makes the
region suitable for frost risk assessment since altitude is an important factor as far as choice
of crops, temperature variations; rainfall and wind patterns are concerned (Oludhe, 2008).
The general wind direction is from east to west. Southeast monsoon dominate from April to
October and the north east winds from October to March (Petiot, 1997). The distribution of
rainfall is typically bimodal with two distinct rainy seasons, the first with its peak in April
and the second with its peak in November. Average annual rainfall varies from 400mm in the
low eastern plains to 2200mm on the southeastern windward side of the Aberdare Range
(Jaetzold, et al., 2007).
Because of its geographical characteristics and complex terrain frost is a constant occurrence
and the most pressing atmospheric phenomenon to the local population because of its
negative effects on agriculture which is the regions main economic activity (FAO, 2005).
Main crops include maize, beans, peas, potatoes, tea and coffee.

Figure 1: Study area showing forested areas, major rivers and administrative boundaries.

3.0 Materials and Methods

3.1 Data
Satellite data MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) Land Surface
Temperature was used in the study. The MODIS sensor is onboard the Terra and Aqua
satellites and provides twice daily observations; daytime and nighttime (Zhengming, 1999).
Nighttime data sets for year 2000 to 2013 were used. In addition to the MODIS LST,
temperature data records (to calibrate LST) and rainfall data was collected from weather
stations within and surrounding the study area to investigate the influence of available
moisture on frost occurrence. Other data sets collected include Landsat imagery from the
USGS, Aster 30m DEM, and frost occurrence data. The quality of the data was controlled to
exclude all the obvious suspicious data.
3.2 Delineation of Frost Hotspots
Using ENVI 5 software, minimum temperatures per pixel was extracted from the daily
nighttime datasets to create continuous coverage of monthly datasets in order to fill up
potential data gaps on the daily acquisitions. The frequency of occurrence for minimum
temperatures below 273K was computed through time frequency analysis to obtain a
frequency map. Further classification of the datasets was done using ENVI 5 decision tree
classifiers to discriminate various levels of frost risk; very severe frost (<250 K), severe frost
(250 to 260), moderate frost (260 to 270 K), minor frost pockets (270 to 280 K) and regions
of no frost (>280 K). These are the levels used by the Kenyan meteorological department.
The determination of frost category threshold was based on the frequency and level of
minimum temperature occurrence evaluated since the year 2000 to 2013.
3.3 Time Series Analysis
Average minimum LST within agricultural land for each month of the year was computed
across all the years from 2000 to 2013. This was used to perform time series analysis of LST
in order to establish the trend and existing patterns of minimum LST occurrences. In addition,
minimum LST was computed for each month across all the years in order to generate
monthly frost hotspot maps. The trend of frost was compared with rainfall trends to deduce
the influence of humidity and available water levels on occurrence. Rainfall trends were
compared with the trends of monthly minimum temperatures to establish the influence of
rainfall and humidity on land surface temperatures.
3.4 Land Cover Mapping
A land cover map was developed using Maximum likelihood classifiers from Landsat
imagery and used to identify croplands and pasture areas that fall within frost hotspots. Using
the land cover maps and frost risk maps, crop specific risk was evaluated for the major crop
cultivars in the counties depending on the critical temperatures for damage.
3.5 Elevation and Land Surface Curvature

In order to establish as well as illustrate the relationship between elevation and land surface
temperatures. The frost hotspot map was draped on an Aster 30m 3D DEM model. A
correlation analysis between the land surface curvature values; slope, Profile convexity,
Longitudinal and Cross-sectional curvatures with corresponding land surface temperature
values was performed in SPSS to determine the relationship between aspect,
convexity/concavity with land surface temperature.
4.0 Research Results and Products
4.1 Frost Hotspots
Frost hotspots are concentrated within the Aberdare and Mount Kenya regions. Only a few
speckles of very severe frost are experienced. Severe frost occurrences are considerably high,
while the moderate frost risk areas cover much of the highland areas. It was also indicated
that 48.35 % of the study area is at risk of frost with probabilities of minimum temperatures
below 270K which translates to -30C. This exposes most crops cultivated within the area
outside the forest boundary to damage by frost.

Figure 2: Frost hotspots map showing categories of frost risk and a frequency map showing
the number of times (number of months) when temperatures below 00C occurred
The frost hotspot map above represents occurrence and distribution of minimum temperatures
while the frequency map represents the number of months herein translated as the number of
times that temperatures below 00C have occurred. The relationship is such that the extent of
the region most frequented by low temperatures, correspond to the frost hotspots. There is a
region above a particular elevation where temperatures are constantly low enough to form
frost. These are at the peaks of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares which are often covered by

4.2 Trends and Patterns of Minimum Temperature Occurrences

From a comparison of the time series analyses for all the years from 2000 to 2013, general
observations show that temperatures are lower in the months of April, May and November.
Occasionally, extensive minimum temperatures would be experienced in the months of
December and January and in two occasions in 2006 and 2007, August. In 2000, the months
of May, June, September and November had the lowest night temperatures. In 2001, the
month of November was most affected. In 2002 and 2003, the month of May was the coldest.
In 2004, May and October were the most affected months. In 2005, May, September and
November had the lowest night temperatures. In 2006, August and November. In 2007, June,
August and November, in 2008, May and October, and in 2009, July and November. April,
May, July and October in 2010, May and November in 2011, January, May and December in
2012, January and April in 2013. The statistics displayed in the graph below indicate
minimum night temperature dynamics within cropland areas only.

Figure 3: Time series analysis of minimum average night temperatures within agricultural
land since the year 2000 to 2013
Different months of the year experience varied levels of temperature and distributed
differently in terms of location. The lowest temperatures occur more frequently in the month
of May and April where temperatures of up to less than 250K are experienced. In other
months like February and March, frost occurrences are minimal. The maps in figures 4 and 5
below show the distribution of the various levels of minimum temperatures for each month.

Figure 4: Monthly distribution of minimum temperature occurrences (January to June).

Figure 5: Monthly distribution of minimum temperature occurrences (July to December)

4.3 Influence of Land Surface Curvature

A consistent negative correlation was indicated between surface temperature values with
profile convexity, slope, cross-sectional curvature and longitudinal curvature all significant at
the level .000. Land Surface temperature thus decreases with increasing surface convexity.
Depressions are cooler than slopes and hilltops. This may be attributed to the fact that cold air
is denser than warm air and therefore flows down slope and settles in valleys and depressions
within the land surface. Since the slope angle increases from west to east, the positive
correlation between land surface temperature and aspect show that slopes facing east are
warmer than those facing west. This may be due to interference by wind as it blows from east
to west. Thus, cold air does not settle down to form frost. Table 1 below illustrates the
Table 1: Pearsons correlation matrix between land monthly land surface temperature and
land surface curvature (months represent LST in those months)























































































A Sig.

Two tailed, **Sig. at the level 0.01 (P.C-Profile Convexity, S-Slope, C.C-Cross-sectional
Convexity, L.C-Longitudinal Curvature, A-Aspect)
4.4 Influence of Rainfall/Humidity
Differing patterns of rainfall were observed within the study area. The eastern side of the
Aberdare ranges extending to Nyeri, Muranga and parts of Kiambu register the highest
rainfall in the month of April and subside from the beginning of May towards June. The peak
of the other rainy season is in the months of October and November. Rainfall amounts are
lowest in the months of December to February and from June to the beginning of September.
In Nyandarua County which falls on the western side of the ranges, rainfall amounts vary
considerably between the months with higher monthly averages throughout the years. Highest
amounts are in August.
Comparing figure 3 and figure 4, monthly minimum average land surface temperaures are
lowest when rainfall is highest. This is oberved within the months of April, May and
November. However, between the months of July and August, low temperatures were
experienced in several years (figure 3). This may be attributed to the high rainfalls experiencd
in Nyandarua, west of the Aberdares.

Figure 6: Time series analysis of Average Monthly rainfall for Nyandarua, Nyeri and
Muranga Counties since the year 2000 to 2010
4.5. The Effect of Elevation on Land Surface Temperature
Widespread occurrences of minimum temperatures are much a consequence of the regions
elevation. A clear cutline on the western side of the Aberdares following the wall of the
escarpment is evident above 2000m asl. Similar observations are observed on Mt. Longonot,
Suswa hills and Mt. Kenya regions.
Apart from the influence of elevation, the land form (Topography and land morphology) of
the Aberdare has much to do with the patterns of temperature within the area. The elongate
plateau west of the Aberdare ranges is affected because it is a depression from the Aberdares.
Cold air flows down from the Aberdare to settle on the plateau causing frost.

Figure 7: Elevation map and a draped frost risk map. Showing the relationship between
elevation and temperature
4.6. Extent of agricultural land at risk of frost damage and its implication on food
security and economy
While most of the area affected by frost fall within the protected forests of Aberdares and
Mount Kenya, minimum temperatures occur on the western side of the Aberdares where most

food crops are cultivated. Besides the regions delineated as intensive cash crop zones, intense
cultivation of food crops is practiced within the rest of the agricultural land. It is from this
region that most food supplies to the surrounding regions originate. These include maize,
potatoes, beans, peas and vegetable crops which constitute the staple and main food crops in
the country. Within the plantations zone are coffee, pineapples, sisal, millet, sorghum and
fodder as well as rangelands.

Figure 8: Land Cover Map showing major land uses/land cover and frost hotspot map with
the extent of major agricultural land illustrated.
Frost occurrence implies a threat to food security not only of the region but of the
surrounding regions as well and the country at large. More so, the dependence of the people
on agriculture would mean slow economic development, hunger and poor nutrition in the
event of a frost occurrence. There is a stretch of land along the Eastern side of the Aberdare
where we have the tea growing zone followed by the coffee zone, pineapple plantations, all
this intertwined with subsistence cropland. Most of the tea growing zone experience or is at
risk of severe frost bites with temperature occurrences below 260K which equates to -130c.
This indicates the risk of economic losses that the tea farmers are exposed to.
4.7. Susceptibility Weighting of the Main Crops
According to FAO (2005), there are four freeze sensitivity categories under which plants fall.
Tender plants have not developed avoidance of intracellular freezing and slightly hardy plants
are sensitive at about -5 0C. Moderately hardy plants resist freeze injury to temperatures as
low as -10 0C but cannot tolerate lower temperatures. Very hardy plants on the other hand
avoid damage through cell desiccation. These freeze sensitivity categories provide a general


conclusion on the minimum temperatures that a plant can endure before damage by frost can
occur. As important to these hardening and damage threshold characterizations is the stage of
plant growth. This susceptibility weighting indicated most susceptible crops to include
potatoes, bananas, beans, sweet potatoes and tomatoes; the moderately susceptible include
carrots, onion (dry), spinach and the least susceptible as cabbage and kales. There are critical
temperatures beyond which specific crops get affected by frost; maize -0.60C, tomatoes 0.50C, potatoes -0.80C, beans -0.70C, peas -0.60C, bananas -0.80C, and kales -0.50C.
According to agro-climatic zonation in Kenya, these crops are well suited for Nyandarua
County and the higher parts of Nyeri, Kiambu and Muranga most of which is at risk of
moderate (-230C to -130C) to severe (-300C to -230C) frost occurrences. Complete damage
becomes inevitable in case of an intense frost event. Given that this area falls within the high
potential agricultural zones, this means limited extent for productive agricultural activities.
4.8 Discussion
Apart from the possible influence of vegetation within the Aberdare and Mount Kenya
regions and the effects of altitude, land forms have a role in determining where frost forms.
Valleys and ridges experience different temperatures. The relationship between land surface
curvature and minimum temperatures is that valley bottoms and low areas experience lower
temperatures on a wind free condition. From the correlation results obtained, it was deduced
that temperatures decrease with increasing land surface convexity, meaning depressions are
cooler than hilltops and steep slopes. Moreover the slopes facing west are cooler than those
facing east as a result of disruption by the southeast and north east monsoon winds.
The landforms of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya have also influenced the occurrence of
frost on their Western sides. The formation of the Aberdare ranges is such that the eastern
slopes are gentler while the Western side of it is an escarpment that slopes into an extensive
plateau. As winds blow from East to West, they bring with them cold air into the region. This
cold air settles at the Western sides of these mountains leading to frost. It is on this plateau
that much of the frost occurs. Consequently, farmers within this region have resorted to
cultivation of cabbages as they have high tolerance for low temperatures, and use of green
houses for vegetable and fruit crops. The photographs below illustrate this.

Plate 1: Growing adoption of green houses in cultivation of vegetables and fruits (misty
Aberdare ranges on the background) and switch to cultivation of cabbage which have high
tolerance for low temperatures.


There are altitudes within which the production of a crop would be optimum. Factoring in
agro-climatic suitability of each crop based on the elements of climate that affect the growth
of vegetation, there is need to take caution and limit agricultural losses related to hazards like
frost. Adoption of frost tolerant crop cultivars would optimize this. Other ways would be to
avoid risky areas such as low lying depressions and west facing slopes when dealing with
susceptible crops. Other management practices to avert losses would be to modify the
physical environment of the crop by inducing wind or adoption of green house technologies.
4.9 Conclusion
Frost risk assessment is an important undertaking when it comes to agricultural hazard
mapping. Crop productivity within the Kenyan highlands is at a threat of frost damage mainly
due to its land surface morphology, the elevation which is a result of volcanic land forms and
tectonic movements, as well as the climate of the region influenced by the south east
monsoon winds. Frost is an agricultural hazard whose negative effects can be attenuated
through systematic assessment of frost occurrence probability. Frost risk mapping provides a
platform to illustrate and document these assessments in order to provide useful and
informative information to farmers and agricultural decision makers. They inform of the
seasons to expect frost, basic conditions for frost occurrence and the locations most likely to
be affected by frost. In order to limit on the losses borne by farmers out of frost damage to
crops, considerations have to be made on the planting season, location as well as choice of
crop cultivars and species suitable for the various locations. In addition, it becomes possible
for the insurance providers to come up with compensation products for farmers for the high
valued crops like tea and coffee according to the levels of frost risk exposure. However, more
research on local characteristics of soil moisture, vegetation cover, and specific crop
phenology stage is necessary if maximum benefits are to be accrued.
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Susan Malaso Kotikot

P.O Box 10100-00200
Tel. No. - 0729051431

Susan Malaso Kotikot awaits graduation with a bachelors degree course in Environmental
Planning and Management due December 2013. She has taken part in several research
projects in the course of her undergraduate programme and was awarded fellowship to the
My Community Our Earth Initiative (MyCOE) for her outstanding undergraduate research
project proposal on the application of geographic technologies for food security, agriculture
and climate change. Her past industrial attachment at the Regional Centre for Mapping of
Resources for Development (RCMRD) has opened her up to the geospatial environment, a
field she hopes to pursue soon in her masters programme.