Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences

Beyond leaf color: Comparing camera-based phenological metrics with leaf biochemical, biophysical, and spectral properties throughout the growing season of a temperate deciduous forest



Plant phenology, a sensitive indicator of climate change, influences vegetation-atmosphere interactions by changing the carbon and water cycles from local to global scales. Camera-based phenological observations of the color changes of the vegetation canopy throughout the growing season have become popular in recent years. However, the linkages between camera phenological metrics and leaf biochemical, biophysical, and spectral properties are elusive. We measured key leaf properties including chlorophyll concentration and leaf reflectance on a weekly basis from June to November 2011 in a white oak forest on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, USA. Concurrently, we used a digital camera to automatically acquire daily pictures of the tree canopies. We found that there was a mismatch between the camera-based phenological metric for the canopy greenness (green chromatic coordinate, gcc) and the total chlorophyll and carotenoids concentration and leaf mass per area during late spring/early summer. The seasonal peak of gcc is approximately 20 days earlier than the peak of the total chlorophyll concentration. During the fall, both canopy and leaf redness were significantly correlated with the vegetation index for anthocyanin concentration, opening a new window to quantify vegetation senescence remotely. Satellite- and camera-based vegetation indices agreed well, suggesting that camera-based observations can be used as the ground validation for satellites. Using the high-temporal resolution dataset of leaf biochemical, biophysical, and spectral properties, our results show the strengths and potential uncertainties to use canopy color as the proxy of ecosystem functioning.