Phenological change detection while accounting for abrupt and gradual trends in satellite image time series

J. Verbesselt, R. Hyndman, A. Zeileis, D. Culvenor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

416 Citations (Scopus)


A challenge in phenology studies is understanding what constitutes phenological change amidst background variation. The majority of phenological studies have focused on extracting critical points in the seasonal growth cycle, without exploiting the full temporal detail. The high degree of phenological variability between years demonstrates the necessity of distinguishing long-term phenological change from temporal variability. Here, we demonstrate the phenological change detection ability of a method for detecting change within time series. BFAST, Breaks For Additive Seasonal and Trend, integrates the decomposition of time series into trend, seasonal, and remainder components with methods for detecting change. We tested BFAST by simulating 16-day NDVI time series with varying amounts of seasonal amplitude and noise, containing abrupt disturbances (e.g. fires) and long-term phenological changes. This revealed that the method is able to detect the timing of phenological changes within time series while accounting for abrupt disturbances and noise. Results showed that the phenological change detection is influenced by the signal-to-noise ratio of the time series. Between different land cover types the seasonal amplitude varies and determines the signal-to-noise ratio, and as such the capacity to differentiate phenological changes from noise. Application of the method on 16-day NDVI MODIS images from 2000 until 2009 for a forested study area in south eastern Australia confirmed these results. It was shown that a minimum seasonal amplitude of 0.1 NDVI is required to detect phenological change within cleaned MODIS NDVI time series using the quality flags. BFAST identifies phenological change independent of phenological metrics by exploiting the full time series. The method is globally applicable since it analyzes each pixel individually without the setting of thresholds to detect change within a time series. Long-term phenological changes can be detected within NDVI time series of a large range of land cover types (e.g. grassland, woodlands and deciduous forests) having a seasonal amplitude larger than the noise level. The method can be applied to any time series data and it is not necessarily limited to NDVI
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2970-2980
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • land-surface phenology
  • structural-change models
  • avhrr ndvi data
  • fourier-analysis
  • spatial-resolution
  • plant phenology
  • climate data
  • modis
  • variability
  • ecosystems


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