Remote Sensing Phenology


The sensor responsible for the longest running series of NDVI products used for large-area phenology studies is carried aboard National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) polar-orbiting weather satellites (see Table 1). This sensor, known as the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR), has a daily repeat cycle and, despite its name, a 1-km resolution (an AVHRR image pixel represents 1 square km of land surface). AVHRR data are used to generate NDVI-based images of the planet's land surface on a regular basis, thereby creating image series that portray seasonal and annual changes to vegetation worldwide. AVHRR NDVI data are available in a consistently processed database from 1982-present at an 8-km re-sampling grid covering the entire planet, and from 1989-present at a 1-km resolution for the conterminous United States.

Table 1. Low or no-cost satellite sensors and data streams utilized for land surface phenology studies1

Sensor Satellite Overpass/
Orbit Frequency
Data Source
(terrestrial data)
Data Record
Time Step
AVHRR NOAA series Daily USGS/EROS2 1989-present 1 km 1-week, 2-week ~24 hours
AVHRR NOAA series Daily NASA Ecocast3 1982-2013 8 km Twice monthly N/A
MSS Landsat 1-5 18 days USGS/EROS2 1972-1992 79 m Distributed by scene N/A
TM Landsat 4-5 16 days USGS/EROS2 1982-2011 30 m Distributed by scene N/A
ETM+ Landsat 7 16 days USGS/EROS2 1999-present 30 m Distributed by scene ~1-3 days
Vegetation SPOT 1-2 days VITO4 1999-present 1.15 km 10-day ~3 months
MODIS Terra 1-2 days LPDAAC5 2000-present 250 m, 500 m, 1 km 8-day, 16-day ~7-30 days
MODIS Aqua 1-2 days LPDAAC5 2002-present 250 m, 500 m, 1 km 8-day, 16-day ~7-30 days
eMODIS Terra/ Aqua 1-2 days USGS/EROS6 2000-present 250 m, 500 m, 1 km 7-day ~15 hours, 7 days6
1  Data sets are accessible for low- or no-cost for use in phenology research and applications (as of 1/4/2011).
2  USGS Earth Explorer: (
3  GIMMS data set: (
4  Flemish Institute for Technology Research (VITO) for SPOT Vegetation S10 products:  ( and
5  Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center: (
6  eMODIS: (, Latency is approximately 15 hours for expedited data (released daily) and around 7 days for historical data.

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