Evaluating the potential of MODIS satellite data to track temporal dynamics of autumn phenology in a temperate mixed forest

Lingling Liu, Liang Liang, Mark D. Schwartz, Alison Donnelly, Zhuosen Wang, Crystal B. Schaaf, Liangyun Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Autumn phenology plays a critical role in regulating growing season duration and can be estimated from satellite remote sensing. However, to date, little work has been undertaken to evaluate the performance of remotely sensed autumn phenology, mainly due to a lack of spatiotemporally compatible field observations. To address this limitation, we conducted intensive ground observations of leaf coloration and leaf fall from 610 deciduous trees at two 625. ×. 625. m study areas within a mixed forest in northern Wisconsin, USA during 2010 and 2012. We derived landscape phenology (LP) indices by upscaling these plot-level observations to facilitate spatially compatible comparisons with coarse resolution satellite measures. The satellite-derived land surface phenology (LSP) was based on 250. m Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) data from both standard 16-day composite (MOD13Q1) and daily Nadir Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Function (BRDF)-Adjusted Reflectance (NBAR) products. The results revealed that LSP dormancy onset differed from the observed date of full leaf coloration by 5.25. days on average (ranging from 0 to 12. days). Furthermore, progression of the autumn season as determined from LSP and LP showed close agreement as increasing LP leaf coloration corresponded to declining NDVI and EVI values. In addition, the end of the leaf coloring phase was marked by a simultaneous stabilizing of both NDVI and EVI time series whereas the timing of the end of the growing season (leaf fall) closely corresponded to minimum NDVI values. These findings clearly support the use of satellite measurements to effectively monitor temporal dynamics of autumn phenology in a temperate mixed forest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-165
Number of pages10
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge Audrey Fusco, Jacquelyn Hurry, and Isaac Park who all contributed to the in situ phenological data collection. We are grateful to the entire staff at the Kemp Natural Resources Station for their support during all of our field campaigns. The authors would also thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments, and Xiaoyang Zhang for his insight on land surface phenology extraction. This project was supported by the National Science Foundation under grants BCS-0649380 , 0937735 , and 1157215 ; and the National Natural Science Foundation of China under grant 41222008 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Inc.


  • EOS land validation core site
  • Fall season
  • Land surface phenology
  • Landscape phenology
  • Northern USA
  • Temperate forest


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