J Plant Ecol ›› 2019, Vol. 12 ›› Issue (3): 583-592.DOI: 10.1093/jpe/rty051

• Research Articles • Previous Articles    

Impacts of snow cover duration on vegetation spring phenology over the Tibetan Plateau

Ke Huang1,†, Jiaxing Zu1,2,†, Yangjian Zhang1,3,4,*, Nan Cong1, Yaojie Liu1,2 and Ning Chen1,2#br#   

  1. 1 Lhasa Plateau Ecosystem Research Station, Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
    2 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100190, China
    3 CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
    4 College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100190, China
    *Correspondence address. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 11 Datun Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100101, China. Tel: +86-010-64889703; Fax: +86-010-64889703; E-mail: zhangyj@igsnrr.ac.cn
    These two authors contributed equally to this work.
  • Received:2018-05-01 Revised:2018-11-14 Accepted:2018-11-29 Online:2018-12-01 Published:2019-07-01



Snow cover occupies large percentage of land surface in Tibetan Plateau. Snow cover duration (SCD) during non-growing seasons plays a critical role in regulating alpine vegetation’s phenology by affecting the energy budgets of land surface and soil moisture conditions. Different period’s snow cover during non-growing season may have distinct effect on the vegetation’s phenology. Start of season (SOS) has been observed advanced under the ongoing climate change in the plateau, but it still remains unclear how the SCD alters the SOS. This study attempts to answer the following questions: (i) What is the pattern of spatial and temporal variations for SCD and grassland SOS? (ii) Which period’s SCD plays a critical role in grassland’s SOS?


The remote sensing datasets from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) were utilized to compute the SOS and SCD on the Tibetan Plateau over 2003–15. The Asymmetric Gaussian function was applied to extract SOS. We also explored the spatial pattern and temporal variation of SOS and SCD. Then, by using linear correlation coefficients, we investigated the driving effects of different period’s non-growing season SCD on SOS.

Important Findings

The non-growing season SCD slightly decreased during 2003–15, while SOS exhibited an overall advancing trend. Advanced trends in SOS were observed in the eastern plateau, and the delayed trends were mainly founded in western plateau. Snow cover area exhibited two separate peaks during autumn and late winter over the plateau. Extended SCD regions mainly distributed in middle-east of the plateau, while shrunken SCD distributed in other regions of the plateau. SCD of different seasons caused distinct effects on vegetation SOS. Lengthened autumn SCD advanced SOS over the eastern plateau. The slightly lengthened SCD postponed SOS over the western plateau. In the wet meadow regions, advanced SOS was positively associated with SCD during the entire non-growing season, whereas for the dry steppe, SCD over the preseason played a more dominant role. The SCD of previous autumn and winter also showed lag effect on SOS over meadow regions to a certain extent. This study confirmed the importance of SCD to phenological processes at the beginning of growing season and further suggested that role of SCD should be discriminated for different periods and for different heat-water conditions. With the lag effects and SCD’s distinct effect of different seasons considered, predictions on the Tibetan Plateau’s spring phenology could be improved.

Key words: snow cover duration, start of season, remote sensing, Tibetan Plateau