This study evaluates the ability to track grassland growth phenology in the Swiss Alps with NOAA-16 Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) time series. Three growth parameters from 15 alpine and subalpine grassland sites were investigated between 2001 and 2005: Melt-Out (MO), Start Of Growth (SOG), and End Of Growth (EOG).We tried to estimate these phenological dates from yearly NDVI time series by identifying dates, where certain fractions (thresholds) of the maximum annual NDVI amplitude were crossed for the first time. For this purpose, the NDVI time series were smoothed using two commonly used approaches (Fourier adjustment or alternatively Savitzky-Golay filtering). Moreover, AVHRR NDVI time series were compared against data from the newer generation sensors SPOT VEGETATION and TERRA MODIS. All remote sensing NDVI time series were highly correlated with single point ground measurements and therefore accurately represented growth dynamics of alpine grassland. The newer generation sensors VGT and MODIS performed better than AVHRR, however, differences were minor. Thresholds for the determination of MO, SOG, and EOG were similar across sensors and smoothing methods, which demonstrated the robustness of the results. For our purpose, the Fourier adjustment algorithm created better NDVI time series than the Savitzky-Golay filter, since latter appeared to be more sensitive to noisy NDVI time series. Findings show that the application of various thresholds to NDVI time series allows the observation of the temporal progression of vegetation growth at the selected sites with high consistency. Hence, we believe that our study helps to better understand largescale vegetation growth dynamics above the tree line in the European Alps.
Keywords: AVHRR; NDVI.; grassland; phenology; remote sensing.