Using time series of MODIS land surface phenology to model temperature and photoperiod controls on spring greenup in North American deciduous forests

Minkyu Moon, Bijan Seyednasrollah, Andrew D. Richardson, Mark A. Friedl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The timing of leaf emergence in temperate and boreal forests is changing, which has profound implications for a wide array of ecosystem processes and services. Spring phenology models, which have been widely used to predict the timing of leaf emergence, generally assume that a combination of photoperiod and thermal forcing control when leaves emerge. However, the exact nature and magnitude of how photoperiod and temperature individually and jointly control leaf emergence is the subject of ongoing debate. Here we use a continuous development model in combination with time series of land surface phenology measurements from MODIS to quantify the relative importance of photoperiod and thermal forcing in controlling the timing of canopy greenup in eastern temperate and boreal forests of North America. The model accurately predicts biogeographic and interannual variation in the timing of greenup across the study region (median RMSE = 4.6 days, median bias = 0.30 days). Results reveal strong biogeographic variation in the period prior to greenup when temperature and photoperiod influence greenup that covaries with the importance of photoperiod versus thermal controls. Photoperiod control on leaf emergence is dominant in warmer climates, but exerts only modest influence on the timing of leaf emergence in colder climates. Results from models estimated using ground-based observations of cloned lilac are consistent with those from remote sensing, which supports the realism of remote sensing-based models. Overall, results from this study suggest that apparent changes in the sensitivity of trees to temperature are modest and reflect a trade-off between decreased sensitivity to temperature and increased photoperiod control, and identify a transition in the relative importance of temperature versus photoperiod near the 10 °C isotherm in mean annual temperature. This suggests that the timing of leaf emergence will continue to move earlier as the climate warms, and that the magnitude of change will be more pronounced in colder regions with mean annual temperatures below 10 °C.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112466
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Bayesian
  • Climate change
  • Deciduous forests
  • Hierarchical modeling
  • Land surface phenology
  • Photoperiod
  • Spring phenology
  • Temperature sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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