Climate Change Is Leading to Rapid Shifts in Seasonality in the Himalaya



Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 7-5-2022


Climate change has significantly impacted vegetation phenology across the globe with vegetation experiencing an advance in the spring green-up phases and a delay in fall senescence. However, some studies from high latitudes and high elevations have instead shown delayed spring phenology, owing to a lack of chilling fulfillment and altered snow cover and photoperiods. Here we use the MODIS satellite-derived view-angle corrected surface reflectance data (MCD43A4) to document the four phenological phases in the high elevations of the Sikkim Himalaya and compared the phenological trends between below-treeline zones and above-treeline zones. This analysis of remotely sensed data for the study period (2001-2017) reveals considerable shifts in the phenology of the Sikkim Himalaya. Advances in the spring start of the season phase (SOS) were more pronounced than delays in the dates for maturity (MAT), senescence (EOS), and advanced dormancy (DOR). The SOS significantly advanced by 21.3 days while the MAT and EOS were delayed by 15.7 days and 6.5 days respectively over the 17-year study period. The DOR showed an advance of 8.2 days over the study period. The region below the treeline showed more pronounced shifts in phenology with respect to an advanced SOS and a delayed EOS and DOR that above treeline. The MAT, however, showed a greater delay in the zone above the treeline than below. Lastly, unlike other studies from high elevations, there is no indication that winter chilling requirements are driving the spring phenology in this region. We discuss four possible explanations for why vegetation phenology in the high elevations of the Eastern Himalaya may exhibit trends independent of chilling requirements and soil moisture due to mediation by snow cover.