Satellite remote sensing is a power tool for the long-term monitoring of vegetation. This work, with reference to a regional case study, investigates remote sensing potentialities for describing the annual phenology of rangelands and broad-leaved forests at the landscape level with the aim
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Satellite remote sensing is a power tool for the long-term monitoring of vegetation. This work, with reference to a regional case study, investigates remote sensing potentialities for describing the annual phenology of rangelands and broad-leaved forests at the landscape level with the aim of detecting eventual effects of climate change in the Alpine region of the Aosta Valley (Northwest (NW) Italy). A first analysis was aimed at estimating phenological metrics (PMs) from satellite images time series and testing the presence of trends along time. A further investigation concerned evapotranspiration from vegetation (ET) and its variation along the years. Additionally, in both the cases the following meteorological patterns were considered: air temperature anomalies, precipitation trends and the timing of yearly seasonal snow melt. The analysis was based on the time series (TS) of different MODIS collections datasets together with Climate Hazards Group InfraRed Precipitation with Station data (CHIRPS) collection obtained through Google Earth Engine. Ground weather stations data from the Centro Funzionale VdA ranging from 2000 to 2019 were used. In particular, the MOD13Q1 v.6, MOD16A2 and MOD10A1 v.6 collections were used to derive PMs, ET and snow cover maps. The SRTM (shuttle radar topography mission) DTM (digital terrain model) was also used to describe local topography while the Coordination of Information on the Environment (CORINE) land cover map was adopted to investigate land use classes. Averagely in the area, rangelands and broad-leaved forests showed that the length of season is getting longer, with a general advance of the SOS (start of the season) and a delay in the EOS (end of the season). With reference to ET, significant increasing trends were generally observed. The water requirement from vegetation appeared to have averagely risen about 0.05 Kg·m−2
(about 0.5%) per year in the period 2000–2019, for a total increase of about 1 Kg·m−2
in 20 years (corresponding to a percentage difference in water requirement from vegetation of about 8%). This aspect can be particularly relevant in the bottom of the central valley, where the precipitations have shown a statistically significant decreasing trend in the period 2000–2019 (conversely, no significant variation was found in the whole territory). Additionally, the snowpack timing persistence showed a general reduction trend. PMs and ET and air temperature anomalies, as well as snow cover melting, proved to have significantly changed their values in the last 20 years, with a continuous progressive trend. The results encourage the adoption of remote sensing to monitor climate change effects on alpine vegetation, with particular focus on the relationship between phenology and other abiotic factors permitting an effective technological transfer.