Theoretical and Applied Climatology

, Volume 105, Issue 1–2, pp 37–50 | Cite as

Modeling land surface phenology in a mixed temperate forest using MODIS measurements of leaf area index and land surface temperature

  • Jonathan M. Hanes
  • Mark D. Schwartz
Original Paper


The development of satellite-derived vegetation indices and metrics has enabled researchers to monitor land surface phenology (LSP). While the use of satellite data to monitor LSP is prevalent, there has been minimal effort to model LSP in temperate climates using satellite observations of the land surface. Satellite-derived LSP models are beneficial for studying past and future changes in phenology and related ecosystem processes (e.g., water, energy, and carbon fluxes). The purpose of this study was to model LSP during the spring in a mixed temperate forest using satellite-derived measurements of leaf area index (LAI) and land surface temperature (LST). As part of the model validation process, the use of LST as a proxy for air temperature to model LSP was also investigated. The results indicate that LST derived from the MODIS Terra sensor at 10:30 a.m. (local solar time) can be used to develop a LSP model that predicts the full profile of LAI from winter dormancy to maturity and the date when LAI reaches half of the annual maximum (LAI50%) with relatively low error. In addition, the modeled LAI values closely tracked in situ observations of the phenological development of the dominant deciduous tree species located in the study area where the model was developed. A comparison of LST and daily maximum air temperature at two levels above the ground surface revealed distinct differences and nonlinearities in the relationship between these two variables. However, accumulated growing degree-days calculated from each of these variables were similar because the largest differences between LST and daily maximum air temperature occurred prior to the beginning of heat accumulation. Consequently, the model predictions of LAI50% derived from the use of LST and daily maximum air temperature were similar. When the developed model was applied in two other mixed forests, the errors were larger due to substantial interannual variability in the relationship between LAI and heat accumulation and systematic differences in this relationship between sites. Although the model cannot be successfully applied in these other mixed forests, the ability of the model to capture a consistent relationship between satellite estimates of LAI and LST in the study area where it was developed demonstrates that satellite observations of the land surface can be used in certain locations to create LSP phenology models. When validated, the models can be used to examine past and future changes in phenology and related ecosystem processes.


Room Mean Square Error MODIS Leaf Area Index Land Surface Temperature Annual Maximum 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We acknowledge R. Teclaw and D. Baumann of the USFS Northern Research Station, R. Strand, of the Wisconsin Education Communications Board, B.D. Cook of NASA GSFC and A.R. Desai of U. Wisconsin-Madison for collection and providing of meteorological data from the WLEF tower, which was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) Biology Directorate Grant DEB-0845166. We also appreciate the constructive comments and suggestions offered by Dr. Jeffrey Morisette and the reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA

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