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Strong contribution of autumn phenology to changes in satellite-derived growing season length estimates across Europe (1982–2011)

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Abstract

Land Surface Phenology (LSP) is the most direct representation of intra-annual dynamics of vegetated land surfaces as observed from satellite imagery. LSP plays a key role in characterizing land-surface fluxes, and is central to accurately parameterizing terrestrial biosphere–atmosphere interactions, as well as climate models. In this article, we present an evaluation of Pan-European LSP and its changes over the past 30 years, using the longest continuous record of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) available to date in combination with a landscape-based aggregation scheme. We used indicators of Start-Of-Season, End-Of-Season and Growing Season Length (SOS, EOS and GSL, respectively) for the period 1982–2011 to test for temporal trends in activity of terrestrial vegetation and their spatial distribution. We aggregated pixels into ecologically representative spatial units using the European Landscape Classification (LANMAP) and assessed the relative contribution of spring and autumn phenology. GSL increased significantly by 18–24 days decade−1 over 18–30% of the land area of Europe, depending on methodology. This trend varied extensively within and between climatic zones and landscape classes. The areas of greatest growing-season lengthening were the Continental and Boreal zones, with hotspots concentrated in southern Fennoscandia, Western Russia and pockets of continental Europe. For the Atlantic and Steppic zones, we found an average shortening of the growing season with hotspots in Western France, the Po valley, and around the Caspian Sea. In many zones, changes in the NDVI-derived end-of-season contributed more to the GSL trend than changes in spring green-up, resulting in asymmetric trends. This underlines the importance of investigating senescence and its underlying processes more closely as a driver of LSP and global change.

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