The ability of spatial remote sensing in the visible domain to properly detect the slow transitions in the Earth’s vegetation is often a subject of debate. The reason behind this is that the satellite products often used to calculate vegetation indices such as surface albedo or reflectance, are not always correctly decontaminated from atmospheric effects. In view of the observed decline in vegetation over the Congo during the last decade, this study investigates how effectively satellite-derived variables can contribute to the answering of this question. In this study, we use two satellite-derived surface albedo products, three satellite-derived aerosol optical depth (AOD) products, two model-derived AOD products, and synthetic observations from radiative transfer simulations. The study discusses the important discrepancies (of up to 70%) found between these satellite surface albedo products in the visible domain over this region. We conclude therefore that the analysis of trends in vegetation properties based on satellite observations in the visible domain such as NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index), calculated from reflectance or albedo variables, is still quite questionable over tropical forest regions such as the Congo. Moreover, this study demonstrates that there is a significant increase (of up to 14%) in total aerosols within the last decade over the Congo. We note that if these changes in aerosol loads are not correctly taken into account in the retrieval of surface albedo, a greenness change of the surface properties (decrease of visible albedo) of around 8% could be artificially detected. Finally, the study also shows that neglecting strong aerosol emissions due to volcano eruptions could lead to an artificial increase of greenness over the Congo of more than 25% in the year of the eruptions and up to 16% during the 2–3 years that follow.
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