Remote Sensing Phenology


Watching spring arrive at EROS
April 21, 2014

Spring Image

Temperatures are slowly getting warmer and it looks like our long winter is coming to an end. Volunteers at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center will soon mobilize to monitor and observe the timing of nature's calendar (events like bud burst, flowering, and leaf drop) in conjunction with the USA National Phenology Network. This seasonal activity is led largely through the efforts of Gretchen Meier, who works with Jesslyn Brown on satellite-based studies of phenology. Phenology, or the rhythm of the seasons, is a direct way to observe impacts of climate change on ecosystems. Gretchen, who is an ecologist, has organized and led over 20 volunteers who have consistently documented phenological transitions at four sites established on the EROS grounds.

In association with the EROS remote sensing phenology program, volunteers are building on a 4-year record of vegetation phenology of 14 species around the EROS campus using a phenology monitoring program called Nature's Notebook (https://www.usanpn.org/natures_notebook). Nature's Notebook (Connecting People with Nature to Benefit Our Changing Planet) relies on "citizen scientists" to record plant and animal life-cycle events. Subsequently, these data are shared by the National Phenology Network with anyone interested in studying the phenology of species in their local areas and their response to the environment. These local observations also provide important ground data to scientists who study climate and vegetation interactions.

"Scientists alone cannot collect enough data: They need our help," said Jesslyn Brown, USGS EROS Geographer. "Today, there are more than 6,000 other naturalists across the nation helping take the pulse of our planet through Nature's Notebook and it is exciting knowing that EROS and our volunteers are part of connecting people with nature. We rely heavily on our local observers, so please consider becoming a part of the volunteer team. It's easy; there is even a Nature's Notebook phone app."

Conducting Nature's Notebook observations at EROS fills an important gap as phenological observations are less dense in the Great Plains compared to other regions. Phenology indicators reveal important environmental data about the world around us. It is a fundamental science of how organisms adapt to and synchronize with their environments and involves nearly all aspects of life on Earth, including the abundance, distribution, and diversity of organisms, ecosystem services, food webs, and the global cycles of water and carbon. Phenological events are sensitive to climate variation; therefore, phenology data provide important baseline information documenting trends in organism ecology and detecting the impacts of climate change on ecosystems at multiple scales.

Later this summer, working with AmericaView and the North Central Climate Science Center, the team will also be establishing a near-surface phenological record collected via a "PhenoCam," an automated time-lapse digital web-enabled camera. The EROS PhenoCam will be a part of an international network (online at http://phenocam.sr.unh.edu/webcam/). Time-series "camera greenness" data are robust to atmospheric noise and useful for validating satellite remote sensing phenological records.

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