Cao, RY; Feng, Y; Liu, XL; Shen, MG; Zhou, J (2020). Uncertainty of Vegetation Green-Up Date Estimated from Vegetation Indices Due to Snowmelt at Northern Middle and High Latitudes. REMOTE SENSING, 12(1), 190.

Vegetation green-up date (GUD), an important phenological characteristic, is usually estimated from time-series of satellite-based normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) data at regional and global scales. However, GUD estimates in seasonally snow-covered areas suffer from the effect of spring snowmelt on the NDVI signal, hampering our realistic understanding of phenological responses to climate change. Recently, two snow-free vegetation indices were developed for GUD detection: the normalized difference phenology index (NDPI) and normalized difference greenness index (NDGI). Both were found to improve GUD detection in the presence of spring snowmelt. However, these indices were tested at several field phenological camera sites and carbon flux sites, and a detailed evaluation on their performances at the large spatial scale is still lacking, which limits their applications globally. In this study, we employed NDVI, NDPI, and NDGI to estimate GUD at northern middle and high latitudes (north of 40 degrees N) and quantified the snowmelt-induced uncertainty of GUD estimations from the three vegetation indices (VIs) by considering the changes in VI values caused by snowmelt. Results showed that compared with NDVI, both NDPI and NDGI improve the accuracy of GUD estimation with smaller GUD uncertainty in the areas below 55 degrees N, but at higher latitudes (55 degrees N-70 degrees N), all three indices exhibit substantially larger GUD uncertainty. Furthermore, selecting which vegetation index to use for GUD estimation depends on vegetation types. All three indices performed much better for deciduous forests, and NDPI performed especially well (5.1 days for GUD uncertainty). In the arid and semi-arid grasslands, GUD estimations from NDGI are more reliable (i.e., smaller uncertainty) than NDP-based GUD (e.g., GUD uncertainty values for NDGI vs. NDPI are 4.3 d vs. 7.2 d in Mongolia grassland and 6.7 d vs. 9.8 d in Central Asia grassland), whereas in American prairie, NDPI performs slightly better than NDGI (GUD uncertainty for NDPI vs. NDGI is 3.8 d vs. 4.7 d). In central and western Europe, reliable GUD estimations from NDPI and NDGI were acquired only in those years without snowfall before green-up. This study provides important insights into the application of, and uncertainty in, snow-free vegetation indices for GUD estimation at large spatial scales, particularly in areas with seasonal snow cover.