Plant phenology is changing because of recent global warming, and this change may precipitate changes in animal distribution (e.g., pests), alter the synchronization between species, and have feedback effects on the climate system through the alteration of biogeochemical and physical processes of vegetated land surface. Here, ground observations (leaf unfolding/first leaf separation of six deciduous tree species) and satellite-derived start-of-growing season (SOS) are used to assess how the timing of leafing/SOS in Western European deciduous forest responded to climate variability between 2001 and 2011 and evaluate the reliability of satellite SOS estimates in tracking the response of forest leafing to climate variability in this area. Satellite SOS estimates are derived from the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) time series of the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). Temporal trends in the SOS are quantified using linear regression, expressing SOS as a function of time. We demonstrated that the growing season was starting earlier between 2001 and 2011 for the majority of temperate deciduous forests in Western Europe, possibly influenced by regional spring warming effects experienced during the same period. A significant shift of up to 3 weeks to early leafing was found in both ground observations and satellite SOS estimates. We also show that the magnitude and trajectory of shifts in satellite SOS estimates are well comparable to that of in situ
observations, hence highlighting the importance of satellite imagery in monitoring leaf phenology under a changing climate.