Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Measuring phenological variability from satellite imagery

January 1, 1995

Vegetation phenological phenomena are closely related to seasonal dynamics of the lower atmosphere and are therefore important elements in global models and vegetation monitoring. Normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) data derived from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) satellite sensor offer a means of efficiently and objectively evaluating phenological characteristics over large areas. Twelve metrics linked to key phenological events were computed based on time-series NDVI data collected from 1989 to 1992 over the conterminous United States. These measures include the onset of greenness, time of peak NDVI, maximum NDVI, rate of greenup, rate of senescence, and integrated NDVI. Measures of central tendency and variability of the measures were computed and analyzed for various land cover types. Results from the analysis showed strong coincidence between the satellite-derived metrics and predicted phenological characteristics. In particular, the metrics identified interannual variability of spring wheat in North Dakota, characterized the phenology of four types of grasslands, and established the phenological consistency of deciduous and coniferous forests. These results have implications for large- area land cover mapping and monitoring. The utility of re- motely sensed data as input to vegetation mapping is demonstrated by showing the distinct phenology of several land cover types. More stable information contained in ancillary data should be incorporated into the mapping process, particularly in areas with high phenological variability. In a regional or global monitoring system, an increase in variability in a region may serve as a signal to perform more detailed land cover analysis with higher resolution imagery.