Satellite detection of increasing Northern Hemisphere non-frozen seasons from 1979 to 2008: Implications for regional vegetation growth

Youngwook Kim, J. S. Kimball, K. Zhang, K. C. McDonald

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209 Scopus citations


The landscape freeze-thaw (FT) signal from satellite microwave remote sensing is closely linked to vegetation phenology and land-atmosphere trace gas exchange where seasonal frozen temperatures are a major constraint to plant growth. We applied a temporal change classification of 37GHz brightness temperature (T b) series from the Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR) and Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) to classify daily FT status over global land areas where seasonal frozen temperatures influence ecosystem processes. A temporally consistent, long-term (30year) FT record was created, ensuring cross-sensor consistency through pixel-wise adjustment of the SMMR T b record based on empirical analyses of overlapping SMMR and SSM/I measurements. The resulting FT record showed mean annual spatial classification accuracies of 91 (+/-8.6) and 84 (+/-9.3) percent for PM and AM overpass retrievals relative to in situ air temperature measurements from the global weather station network. The FT results were compared against other measures of biosphere activity including CO 2 eddy flux tower measurements and satellite (MODIS) vegetation greenness (NDVI). The FT defined non-frozen season largely bounds the period of active vegetation growth and net ecosystem CO 2 uptake for tower sites representing major biomes. Earlier spring thawing and longer non-frozen seasons generally benefit vegetation growth inferred from NDVI spring and summer growth anomalies where the non-frozen season is less than approximately 6months, with greater benefits at higher (>45°N) latitudes. A strong (P<0.001) increasing (0.189daysyr -1) trend in the Northern Hemisphere mean annual non-frozen season is largely driven by an earlier (-0.149daysyr -1) spring thaw trend and coincides with a 0.033°Cyr -1 regional warming trend. The FT record also shows a positive (0.199daysyr -1) trend in the number of transitional (AM frozen and PM non-frozen) frost days, which coincide with reduced vegetation productivity inferred from tower CO 2 and MODIS NDVI measurements. The relative benefits of earlier and longer non-frozen seasons for vegetation growth under global warming may be declining due to opposing increases in disturbance, drought and frost damage related impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)472-487
Number of pages16
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • CDR
  • Climate change
  • ESDR
  • Freeze thaw
  • Global warming
  • NDVI
  • Phenology
  • SMMR
  • SSM/I
  • Vegetation growing season


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