New Paper In Press “Intercomparison, Interpretation, and Assessment Of Spring Phenology In North America Estimated From Remote Sensing For 1982 To 2006” By White et al.2009

There is a very interesting paper in press that updates our understanding of spring pheonology in North America. There have been statements that spring leaf out has become earlier in recent years (e.g. see page 77 in CCSP, 2009). This claim appears to be incorrect. The paper is

 White, M.A., K.M. de Beurs, K. Didan, D.W. Inouye, A.D. Richardson, O.P. Jensen, J. O’Keefe, G. Zhang, R.R. Nemani, W.J.D. van Leeuwen, J.F. Brown, A. de Wit, M. Schaepman, X. Lin, M. Dettinger, A. Bailey, J. Kimball, M.D. Schwartz, D.D. Baldocchi, J.T. Lee, W.K. Lauenroth. Intercomparison, interpretation, and assessment of spring phenology in North America estimated from remote sensing for 1982 to 2006. Global Change Biology (in press).

The abtstract reads

“Shifts in the timing of spring phenology are a central feature of global change research. Long-term observations of plant phenology have been used to track vegetation responses to climate variability but are often limited to particular species and locations and may not represent synoptic patterns. Satellite remote sensing is instead used for continental to global monitoring. Although numerous methods exist to extract phenological timing, in particular start-of-spring (SOS), from time series of reflectance data, a comprehensive intercomparison and interpretation of SOS methods has not been conducted. Here, we assess 10 SOS methods for North America between 1982 and 2006. The techniques include consistent inputs from the 8 km Global Inventory Modeling and Mapping Studies Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer NDVIg dataset, independent data for snow cover, soil thaw, lake ice dynamics, spring streamflow timing, over 16 000 individual measurements of ground-based phenology, and two temperature-driven models of spring phenology. Compared with an ensemble of the 10 SOS methods, we found that individual methods differed in average day-of-year estimates by  +/- 60 days and in standard deviation by +/- 20 days. The ability of the satellite methods to retrieve SOS estimates was highest in northern latitudes and lowest in arid, tropical, and Mediterranean ecoregions. The ordinal rank of SOS methods varied geographically, as did the relationships between SOS estimates and the cryospheric/hydrologic metrics. Compared with ground observations, SOS estimates were related to the first leaf and first flowers expanding phenological stages. We found no evidence for time trends in spring arrival from ground- or model-based data; using an ensemble estimate from two methods that were more closely related to ground observations than other methods, SOS trends could be detected for only 12% of North America and were divided between trends towards both earlier and later spring.”

The conclusion of the paper states in part

“Trend estimates from the SOS methods as well as measured and modeled plant phenology strongly suggest either no or very geographically limited trends towards earlier spring arrival, although we caution that, for an event such as SOS with high interannual variability, a 25-year SOS record is short for detecting robust trends. Increased greenhouse warming since the late 20th century would seem to argue for increased, not decreased, shifts in spring during our study period, indicating that processes such as succession, changes in community structure, land management, or disturbance may be more important than previously recognized. Seasonal temperature changes may also be linked to a trend reversal in SOS in the early 1990s.”

The finding, with the cavaet that the record is still relatively short, that any early leaf out is, at best, geographically limited, raises questions on claims that spring has been arriving earlier.

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