Detecting spatiotemporal changes of peak foliage coloration in deciduous and mixedforests across the Central and Eastern United States

Lingling Liu, Xiaoyang Zhang, Yunyue Yu, Alison Donnelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The timing of fall foliage coloration, especially peak coloration, is of great importance to the climate change research community as it has implications for carbon storage in forests. However, its long-term variation and response to climate change are poorly understood. To address this issue, we examined the long-term trends and breakpoints in satellite derived peak coloration onset from 1982 to 2014 using an innovative approach that combines Singular Spectrum Analysis (SSA) with Breaks for Additive Seasonal and Trend (BFAST). The peak coloration trend was then evaluated using both field foliage coloration observations and flux tower measurements. Finally, interannual changes in peak coloration onset were correlated with temperature and precipitation variation. Results showed that temporal trends in satellite-derived peak coloration onset were comparable with both field observations and flux tower measurements of gross primary productivity. Specifically, a breakpoint in long-term peak coloration onset was detected in 25% of pixels which were mainly distributed at latitudes north of 37N. The breakpoint tended to occur between 1998 and 2004. Peak coloration onset was delayed before the breakpoint while it was transformed to an early trend after the breakpoint in nearly all pixels. The remaining 75% of pixels exhibited monotonic trends, 35% of which revealed a late trend and 40% an early trend. The results indicate that the onset of peak coloration experienced a late trend during the 1980s and 1990s in most deciduous and mixed forests. However, the trend was reversed during the most recent decade when the timing of peak coloration became earlier. The onset of peak coloration was significantly correlated with late summer and autumn temperature in 55.5% of pixels from 1982 to 2014. This pattern of temperature impacts was also verified using field observations and flux tower measurements. In the remaining 44.5% of pixels, 12.2% of pixels showed significantly positive correlation between the onset of peak coloration and cumulative precipitation during late summer and autumn period from 1982 to 2014. Our findings can improve understanding of the impact of changes in autumn phenology on carbon uptake in forests, which in turn facilitate more reliable measures of carbon dynamics in vegetation-climate interactions models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number024013
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 9 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NASA contracts NNX15AB96A and NNX14AJ32G, and NOAA contract JPSS-PGRR2-14.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd.


  • field observation
  • flux data
  • long-term trend
  • peak coloration
  • satellite data
  • Singular Spectrum Analysis
  • temperature


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