Green-up dates in the Tibetan Plateau have continuously advanced from 1982 to 2011
As the Earth’s third pole, the Tibetan Plateau has experienced a pronounced warming in the past decades. Recent studies reported that the start of the vegetation growing season (SOS) in the Plateau showed an advancing trend from 1982 to the late 1990s and a delay from the late 1990s to 2006. However, the findings regarding the SOS delay in the later period have been questioned, and the reasons causing the delay remain unknown. Here we explored the alpine vegetation SOS in the Plateau from 1982 to 2011 by integrating three long-term time-series datasets of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI): Global Inventory Modeling and Mapping Studies (GIMMS, 1982–2006), SPOT VEGETATION (SPOT-VGT, 1998–2011), and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS, 2000–2011). We found GIMMS NDVI in 2001–2006 differed substantially from SPOT-VGT and MODIS NDVIs and may have severe data quality issues in most parts of the western Plateau. By merging GIMMS-based SOSs from 1982 to 2000 with SPOT-VGT–based SOSs from 2001 to 2011 we found the alpine vegetation SOS in the Plateau experienced a continuous advancing trend at a rate of ∼1.04 d·y−1 from 1982 to 2011, which was consistent with observed warming in springs and winters. The satellite-derived SOSs were proven to be reliable with observed phenology data at 18 sites from 2003 to 2011; however, comparison of their trends was inconclusive due to the limited temporal coverage of the observed data. Longer-term observed data are still needed to validate the phenology trend in the future.