Calibration of Sentinel Land Surface Phenology with Ground Phenological Observations for Agricultural Applications


Climate extremes have led to serious damages in Austria’s agriculture during the last years. The worst case so far was the frost damage to fruit trees and vineyards in 2016, where in Styria alone, damages equivalent to 200 Mio. Euros were reported.

Damage quantification is currently based on rough estimations from farmers or generalized calculations based on statistical figures or local drone surveys. The results from these quantification methods typically show deficiencies in either availability, accessibility, quantity and/or quality.

Both public institutions and insurance companies therefore often lack an objective view on the dimensions of the susceptible areas before and damaged areas after a frost event. In order to provide the efficient monitoring and the required overview, the assessment of the severity and extent of damages due to weather events will be improved. For this purpose, remote sensing data from Europe’s earth observation satellites Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3 will be used to generate detailed phenological information and join it with meteorological models for improved damage forecasts.


Apple blossom, Credit: Pexels/Abby Chung

Late frosts often cause massive damage to fruit set, which results in reduced quality or lower yields. For example, late frost in 2016 caused damage of around 200 million euros in Styrian fruit and wine growing.

In the PhenObserve project funded by FFG, researchers Carina Sobe and Manuela Hirschmugl, from the DIGITAL Institute, are developing an early warning system for potential late frost damage with the project partners Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG) and CloudFlight Austria GmbH. This system is based on satellite image time series and meteorological modelling.

Important phenological development stages, such as apple blossom, are determined from phenological observations, in which anyone can participate via the ZAMG Nature Calendar App (, and reflection curves from the satellite image data. Linked with weather observations and forecasts, these are integrated into an early warning system detecting possible frost damage.


Moreover, not only late frost, but also extreme dry periods can lead to significant agricultural yield losses, such as in 2015, when there was an Austrian-wide harvest loss of grain maize of more than 22 % due to drought.

Remote sensing also provides fast and area-wide information on drought damage. On the one hand, this helps in forecasting crop yields and, on the other hand, it offers insurance companies the possibility of obtaining an objective overview of the extent of damage over a wide area and can thus support the processing of compensation payments.

The following figure shows potential drought damage in maize fields and its development over time:

Trockenschäden bei Maisflächen auf Basis von Satellitenbildern

Trockenschäden bei Maisflächen in Niederösterreich im Jahr 2018 erfasst auf Basis von Satellitenbildern. Credit: Pixabay (free)

Project Partners

The Project Consortium is led by Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG) and consists of JOANNEUM RESEARCH as research partner and Cloudflight Austria GmbH as industry partner. More information can be found here


This project is partly funded by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) under the project number 873653.