Using data from Landsat, MODIS, VIIRS and PhenoCams to monitor the phenology of California oak/grass savanna and open grassland across spatial scales

Yan Liu, Michael J. Hill, Xiaoyang Zhang, Zhuosen Wang, Andrew D. Richardson, Koen Hufkens, Gianluca Filippa, Dennis D. Baldocchi, Siyan Ma, Joseph Verfaillie, Crystal B. Schaaf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


The Mediterranean-type oak/grass savanna of California is composed of widely spaced oak trees with understory grasses. These savanna regions are interspersed with large areas of more open grasslands. The ability of remotely sensed data (with various spatial resolutions) to monitor the phenology in these water-limited oak/grass savannas and open grasslands is explored over the 2012–2015 timeframe using data from Landsat (30 m), the MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS – gridded 500 m), and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS – gridded 500 m) data. Vegetation phenology detected from near-ground level, webcam based PhenoCam imagery from two sites in the Ameriflux Network (long-term flux measurement network of the Americas) (Tonzi Ranch and Vaira Ranch) is upscaled, using a National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) aerial image (1 m), to evaluate the detection of vegetation phenology of these savannas and grasslands with the satellite data. Results show that the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) time series observed from the satellite sensors are all strongly correlated with the PhenoCam NDVI values from Tonzi Ranch (R2 > 0.67) and Vaira Ranch (R2 > 0.81). However, the different viewing geometries and spatial coverage of the PhenoCams and the various satellite sensors may cause differences in the absolute phenological transition dates. Analysis of frequency histograms of phenological dates illustrate that the phenological dates in the relatively homogeneous open grasslands are consistent across the different spatial resolutions, in contrast, the relatively heterogeneous oak/grass savannas display has somewhat later greenup, maturity, and dormancy dates at 30 m resolution than at 500 m scale due to the different phenological cycles exhibited by the overstory trees and the understory grasses. In addition, phenologies derived from the MODIS view angle corrected reflectance (Nadir BRDF-Adjusted Reflectance – NBAR) and the newly developed VIIRS NBAR are shown to provide comparable phenological dates (majority absolute bias ≤2 days) in this area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-325
Number of pages15
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - May 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Land surface phenology
  • Landsat
  • Satellite sensor resolution
  • Savannas
  • near surface webcams

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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