Phenology from Landsat when data is scarce: Using MODIS and Dynamic Time-Warping to combine multi-year Landsat imagery to derive annual phenology curves

Matthias Baumann, Mutlu Ozdogan, Andrew D. Richardson, Volker C. Radeloff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Green-leaf phenology describes the development of vegetation throughout a growing season and greatly affects the interaction between climate and the biosphere. Remote sensing is a valuable tool to characterize phenology over large areas but doing at fine- to medium resolution (e.g., with Landsat data) is difficult because of low numbers of cloud-free images in a single year. One way to overcome data availability limitations is to merge multi-year imagery into one time series, but this requires accounting for phenological differences among years. Here we present a new approach that employed a time series of a MODIS vegetation index data to quantify interannual differences in phenology, and Dynamic Time Warping (DTW) to re-align multi-year Landsat images to a common phenology that eliminates year-to-year phenological differences. This allowed us to estimate annual phenology curves from Landsat between 2002 and 2012 from which we extracted key phenological dates in a Monte-Carlo simulation design, including green-up (GU), start-of-season (SoS), maturity (Mat), senescence (Sen), end-of-season (EoS) and dormancy (Dorm). We tested our approach in eight locations across the United States that represented forests of different types and without signs of recent forest disturbance. We compared Landsat-based phenological transition dates to those derived from MODIS and ground-based camera data from the PhenoCam-network. The Landsat and MODIS comparison showed strong agreement. Dates of green-up, start-of-season and maturity were highly correlated (r 0.86-0.95), as were senescence and end-of-season dates (r > 0.85) and dormancy (r > 0.75). Agreement between the Landsat and PhenoCam was generally lower, but correlation coefficients still exceeded 0.8 for all dates. In addition, because of the high data density in the new Landsat time series, the confidence intervals of the estimated keydates were substantially lower than in case of MODIS and PhenoCam. Our study thus suggests that by exploiting multi-year Landsat imagery and calibrating it with MODIS data it is possible to describe green-leaf phenology at much finer spatial resolution than previously possible, highlighting the potential for fine scale phenology maps using the rich Landsat data archive over large areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)72-83
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Dynamic time warping
  • EVI
  • Green-leaf phenology
  • Landsat
  • PhenoCam

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Computers in Earth Sciences
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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