International Journal of Biometeorology

, Volume 51, Issue 5, pp 405–414 | Cite as

A comparative study of satellite and ground-based phenology

  • S. Studer
  • R. StöckliEmail author
  • C. Appenzeller
  • P. L. Vidale
Original Article


Long time series of ground-based plant phenology, as well as more than two decades of satellite-derived phenological metrics, are currently available to assess the impacts of climate variability and trends on terrestrial vegetation. Traditional plant phenology provides very accurate information on individual plant species, but with limited spatial coverage. Satellite phenology allows monitoring of terrestrial vegetation on a global scale and provides an integrative view at the landscape level. Linking the strengths of both methodologies has high potential value for climate impact studies. We compared a multispecies index from ground-observed spring phases with two types (maximum slope and threshold approach) of satellite-derived start-of-season (SOS) metrics. We focus on Switzerland from 1982 to 2001 and show that temporal and spatial variability of the multispecies index correspond well with the satellite-derived metrics. All phenological metrics correlate with temperature anomalies as expected. The slope approach proved to deviate strongly from the temporal development of the ground observations as well as from the threshold-defined SOS satellite measure. The slope spring indicator is considered to indicate a different stage in vegetation development and is therefore less suited as a SOS parameter for comparative studies in relation to ground-observed phenology. Satellite-derived metrics are, however, very susceptible to snow cover, and it is suggested that this snow cover should be better accounted for by the use of newer satellite sensors.


Satellite phenology Ground-based phenology NDVI Methodological comparison Climate change 



This study was carried out in the framework of the National Centre of Competence in Research on climate variability, predictability and climate risks (NCCR Climate) funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. A part of the study was also funded by the State Secretariat for Education and Research in the framework of the European COST Action 725. The EFAI-NDVI was created under Science Systems and Applications Inc. subcontract 2101-03-002 (NASA contract NAS 5-01070). The support of Prof. Christoph Schär (ETH Institute of Climate and Atmospheric Science) is gratefully acknowledged. The authors thank two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on the manuscripts. We also thank Dr. S. Scherrer for providing the snow height PC time series data and Dr. Tim Sparks for editing the language.


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Copyright information

© ISB 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Studer
    • 1
  • R. Stöckli
    • 2
    • 4
    Email author
  • C. Appenzeller
    • 1
  • P. L. Vidale
    • 3
  1. 1.Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology MeteoSwissZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.NCAS, Department of MeteorologyUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  4. 4.Department of Atmospheric ScienceColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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