Evaluation of the plant phenology index (PPI), NDVI and EVI for start-of-season trend analysis of the Northern Hemisphere boreal zone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Satellite remote sensing of plant phenology provides an important indicator of climate change. However, start of the growing season (SOS) estimates in Northern Hemisphere boreal forest areas are known to be challenged by the presence of seasonal snow cover and limited seasonality in the greenness signal for evergreen needleleaf forests, which can both bias and impede trend estimates of SOS. The newly developed Plant Phenology Index (PPI) was specifically designed to overcome both problems. Here we use Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data (2000-2014) to analyze the ability of PPI for estimating start of season (SOS) in boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere, in comparison to two other widely applied indices for SOS retrieval: the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and the Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI). Satellite-based SOS is evaluated against gross primary production (GPP)-retrieved SOS derived from a network of flux tower observations in boreal areas (a total of 81 site-years analyzed). Spatiotemporal relationships between SOS derived from PPI, EVI and NDVI are furthermore studied for different boreal land cover types and regions. The overall correlation between SOS derived from VIs and ground measurements was rather low, but PPI performed significantly better (r = 0.50, p < 0.01) than EVI and NDVI which both showed a very poor correlation (r = 0.11, p = 0. 16 and r = 0.08, p = 0.24). PPI, EVI and NDVI overall produce similar trends in SOS for the Northern Hemisphere showing an advance in SOS towards earlier dates (0.28, 0.23 and 0.26 days/year), but a pronounced difference in trend estimates between PPI and EVI/NDVI is observed for different land cover types. Deciduous needleleaf forest is characterized by the largest advance in SOS when considering all indices, yet PPI showed less dramatic changes as compared to EVI/NDVI (0.47 days/year as compared to 0.62 and 0.74). PPI SOS trends were found to be higher for deciduous broadleaf forests and savannas (0.54 and 0.56 days/year). Taken together, the findings of this study suggest improved performance of PPI over NDVI and EVI in retrieval of SOS in boreal regions and precautions must be taken when interpreting spatio-temporal patterns of SOS from the latter two indices.


External organisations
  • University of Copenhagen
  • Geoinfo A/S
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Physical Geography


  • Boreal forest, Climate change, High latitudes, MODIS time series, SOS (start of season), Vegetation phenology
Original languageEnglish
Article number92
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2017 May 1
Publication categoryResearch