PhenoCam: A continental-scale observatory for monitoring the phenology of terrestrial vegetation


The term phenology refers to both the seasonal rhythms of plants and animals, and the study of these rhythms. Plant phenological processes, such as when leaves emerge in the spring and change color in the autumn, are highly responsive to year-to-year variation in weather as well as longer-term changes in climate, particularly as related to temperature and precipitation. Understanding and predicting the impacts of climate change on plants and ecosystems requires better data with which predictive models of phenology can be developed and tested. PhenoCam uses networked, digital cameras as multi-channel imaging sensors to track the seasonal dynamics of terrestrial vegetation across a range of ecosystem types. The original network, which began in 2006 as a project focusing on the northeast region, consists of a dozen cameras deployed at pre-existing long term research sites. At eight of these sites, cameras are co-located with eddy covariance instrumentation with which surface-atmosphere exchanges of carbon, water and energy are being measured. This provides opportunities for investigating relationships between phenology and ecosystem function and climate system feedbacks. We plan to expand PhenoCam from a regional network to a continental-scale observatory. We will deploy 20 additional cameras at FLUXNET sites across North America, spanning a wide range of vegetation types. We will further explore the feasibility of exploiting information related to phenology from an existing image archive of approximately 17,000 publicly available cameras located across the continent. We will use computer vision and machine learning approaches to develop new processing algorithms for this imagery, and will link these data products both to ground observations by USA-National Phenology Network “citizen scientists” and various satellite-based data streams, e.g. the MODIS phenology product. This project will develop predictions of how phenology may be affected by future climate change, and will quantify how future changes in phenology may impact some of the services that society derives from natural and managed ecosystems, such as agricultural crops, forest products, and clean water. In addition, the data produced from this project will be used improve the representation of phenological processes in large-scale climate models, which will help to reduce uncertainties in future climate forecasts.

Publication Date


Journal Title

Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union (AGU)


American Geophysical Union Publications

Document Type

Conference Proceeding