1Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster, University of Technology, Sydney, P.O. Box 123, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia
2Centre of Ecosystem Science, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Kensington NSW 2052, Australia
3Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Earth System Modeling, Center for Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
4CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Pye Laboratory, Acton, ACT, 2600, Australia
*now at: Centre of Ecosystem Science, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Kensington NSW 2052, Australia
Abstract. Land surface phenological cycles of vegetation greening and browning are influenced by variability in climatic forcing. Quantitative information on phenological cycles and their variability is important for agricultural applications, wildfire fuel accumulation, land management, land surface modeling, and climate change studies. Most phenology studies have focused on temperature-driven Northern Hemisphere systems, where phenology shows annually reoccurring patterns. Yet, precipitation-driven non-annual phenology of arid and semi-arid systems (i.e. drylands) received much less attention, despite the fact that they cover more than 30% of the global land surface. Here we focused on Australia, the driest inhabited continent with one of the most variable rainfall climates in the world and vast areas of dryland systems. Detailed and internally consistent studies investigating phenological cycles and their response to climate variability across the entire continent designed specifically for Australian dryland conditions are missing. To fill this knowledge gap and to advance phenological research, we used existing methods more effectively to study geographic and climate-driven variability in phenology over Australia. We linked derived phenological metrics with rainfall and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). We based our analysis on Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) data from the MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) from 2000 to 2013, which included extreme drought and wet years. We conducted a continent-wide investigation of the link between phenology and climate variability and a more detailed investigation over the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB), the primary agricultural area and largest river catchment of Australia.
Results showed high inter- and intra-annual variability in phenological cycles. Phenological cycle peaks occurred not only during the austral summer but at any time of the year, and their timing varied by more than a month in the interior of the continent. The phenological cycle peak magnitude and integrated greenness were most significantly correlated with monthly SOI within the preceding 12 months. Correlation patterns occurred primarily over north-eastern Australia and within the MDB predominantly over natural land cover and particularly in floodplain and wetland areas. Integrated greenness of the phenological cycles (surrogate of productivity) showed positive anomalies of more than two standard deviations over most of eastern Australia in 2009–2010, which coincided with the transition between the El Niño induced decadal droughts to flooding caused by La Niña. The quantified spatial-temporal variability in phenology across Australia in response to climate variability presented here provides important information for land management and climate change studies and applications.