Kowalski, K; Senf, C; Hostert, P; Pflugmacher, D (2020). Characterizing spring phenology of temperate broadleaf forests using Landsat and Sentinel-2 time series. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF APPLIED EARTH OBSERVATION AND GEOINFORMATION, 92, 102172.

Vegetation phenology has a great impact on land-atmosphere interactions like carbon cycling, albedo, and water and energy exchanges. To understand and predict these critical land-atmosphere feedbacks, it is crucial to measure and quantify phenological responses to climate variability, and ultimately climate change. Coarse-resolution sensors such as MODIS and AVHRR have been useful to study vegetation phenology from regional to global scales. These sensors are, however, not capable of discerning phenological variation at moderate spatial scales. By offering increased observation density and higher spatial resolution, the combination of Landsat and Sentinel-2 time series might provide the opportunity to overcome this limitation. In this study, we analyzed the potential of combined Sentinel-2 and Landsat time series for estimating start of season (SOS) of broadleaf forests across Germany for the year 2018. We tested two common statistical modeling approaches (logistic and generalized additive models using thin plate splines) and the two most commonly used vegetation indices, the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and the Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI). We found strong agreement between SOS estimates from logistic and spline models (r(EVI) = 0.86; r(NDVI) = 0.65), whereas agreement was higher for EVI than for NDVI (RMSDEVI = 3.07, RMSDNDVI = 5.26 days). The choice of vegetation index thus had a higher impact on the results than the fitting method. The EVI-based SOS also showed higher correlation with ground observations compared to NDVI (r(EVI) = 0.51, r(NDVI) = 0.42). Data density played an important role in estimating land surface phenology. Models combining Sentinel-2A/B, with an average cloud-free observation frequency of 12 days, were largely consistent with the combined Landsat and Sentinel-2 models, suggesting that Sentinel-2A/B may be sufficient to capture SOS for most areas in Germany in 2018. However, in non-overlapping swath areas and mountain areas, observation frequency was significantly lower, underlining the need to combine Landsat and Sentinel-2 for consistent SOS estimates over large areas. Our study demonstrates that estimating SOS of temperate broadleaf forests at medium spatial resolution has become feasible with combined Landsat and Sentinel-2 time series.