Evaluation of land surface phenology from VIIRS data using time series of PhenoCam imagery

Published by Stephanie Mayer on

Land surface phenology (LSP) has been widely retrieved from time series of various satellite instruments in order to monitor climate change and ecosystem dynamics. However, any evaluation of the quality of LSP data sets is quite challenging because the in situ observations on a limited number of individual trees, shrubs, or other plants are rarely representative of the landscape sampled in a single satellite pixel. Moreover, vegetation indices detecting biophysical features of vegetation seasonality are different from (but related to) the specific plant life history stages observed by humans at ground level. This study is the first comprehensive evaluation of the LSP product derived from Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) data using both MODIS LSP products and observations from the PhenoCam network across the Contiguous United States during 2013 and 2014. PhenoCam observes vegetation canopy over a landscape at very high frequency, providing nearly continuous canopy status and enabling the estimate of discrete phenophase using vegetation indices that are conceptually similar to satellite data. Six phenological dates (greenup onset, mid-greenup phase, maturity onset, senescence onset, mid-senescence phase, and dormancy onset) were retrieved separately from daily VIIRS NDVI (normalized difference vegetative index) and EVI2 (two-band enhanced vegetation index) time series. Similarly, the six phenological dates were also extracted from the 30-min time series of PhenoCam data using GCC (green chromatic coordinate) and VCI (vegetation contrast index) separately. Phenological dates derived from VIIRS NDVI and EVI2 and PhenoCam GCC and VCI were generally comparable for the vegetation greenup phase, but differed considerably for the senescence phase. Although all indices captured green leaf development effectively, performance discrepancies arose due to their ability to track the mixture of senescing leaf colors. PhenoCam GCC and VCI phenological observations were in better agreement with the phenological dates from VIIRS EVI2 than from VIIRS NDVI. Further, the VIIRS EVI2 phenological metrics were more similar to those from PhenoCam VCI than from PhenoCam GCC time series. Overall, the average absolute difference between the VIIRS EVI2 and PhenoCam VCI phenological dates was 7–11 days in the greenup phase and 10–13 days in the senescence phase. The difference was smaller in forests, followed by grasslands and croplands, and then savannas. Finally, the phenological dates derived from VIIRS EVI2 were compared with MODIS detections, which showed a good agreement with an average absolute difference less than a week except for the senescence onset. These results for the first time demonstrate the upper boundary of uncertainty in VIIRS LSP detections and the continuity to MODIS LSP product.