Constraints and opportunities for detecting land surface phenology in drylands

TitleConstraints and opportunities for detecting land surface phenology in drylands
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsTaylor S, Browning D.M., Baca R, Gao F
JournalJournal of Remote Sensing
Date Published10/27/2021
ARIS Log Number384985
Keywordsconstraints, detecting, drylands, land surface phenology, opportunities

Land surface phenology (LSP) enables global scale tracking of ecosystem processes, but its utility is limited in drylands due to low vegetation cover and resulting low annual amplitudes of vegetation indices (VIs). Due to the importance of drylands for biodiversity, food security, and the carbon cycle it is necessary to understand limitations in measuring dryland dynamics. Here, using simulated data and multi-temporal unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery of a desert shrubland, we explore the feasibility of detecting LSP with respect to fractional vegetation cover, plant functional types, VI uncertainty, and two different detection algorithms. Using simulated data we found that plants with distinct VI signals, such as deciduous shrubs, can require up to 60% fractional cover to consistently detect LSP. Evergreen plants, with lower seasonal VI amplitude, require considerably higher cover and can have undetectable phenology even with 100% vegetation cover. Our evaluation of two algorithms showed that neither performed the best in all cases. Even with adequate cover, biases in phenological metrics can still exceed 20 days, and can never be 100% accurate due to VI uncertainty from shadows, sensor view angle, and atmospheric interference. We showed how high-resolution UAV imagery enables LSP studies in drylands, and highlighted important scale effects driven by within canopy VI variation. With high-resolution imagery the open canopies of drylands are beneficial as they allow for straightforward identification of individual plants, enabling the tracking of phenology at the individual level. Drylands thus have the potential to become an exemplary environment for future LSP research.