The impact of a rapidly changing climate on the biosphere is an urgent area of research for mitigation policy and management. Plant phenology is a sensitive indicator of climate change and regulates the seasonality of carbon, water, and energy fluxes between the land surface and the climate system, making it an important tool for studying biosphere–atmosphere interactions. To monitor plant phenology at regional and continental scales, automated near-surface cameras are being increasingly used to supplement phenology data derived from satellite imagery and data from ground-based human observers. We used imagery from a network of phenology cameras in a citizen science project called Season Spotter to investigate whether information could be derived from these images beyond standard, color-based vegetation indices. We found that engaging citizen science volunteers resulted in useful science knowledge in three ways: first, volunteers were able to detect some, but not all, reproductive phenology events, connecting landscape-level measures with field-based measures. Second, volunteers successfully demarcated individual trees in landscape imagery, facilitating scaling of vegetation indices from organism to ecosystem. And third, volunteers’ data were used to validate phenology transition dates calculated from vegetation indices and to identify potential improvements to existing algorithms to enable better biological interpretation. As a result, the use of citizen science in combination with near-surface remote sensing of phenology can be used to link ground-based phenology observations to satellite sensor data for scaling and validation. Well-designed citizen science projects targeting improved data processing and validation of remote sensing imagery hold promise for providing the data needed to address grand challenges in environmental science and Earth observation.
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