Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department / School

Geospatial Science and Engineering

First Advisor

Geoffrey M. Henebry


Central Asia, Landsat, Land Surface Phenology, MODIS, Pastures, Snow cover changes


In the semiarid, continental climates of montane Central Asia, with its constant moisture deficit and low relative humidity, agropastoralism constitutes the foundation of the rural economy. In Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished, landlocked republic in Central Asia, herders of the highlands practice vertical transhumance—the annual movement of livestock to higher elevation pastures to take advantage of seasonally available forage resources. Dependency on pasture resource availability during the short mountain growing season makes herds and herders susceptible to changing weather and climate patterns. This dissertation focuses on using remote sensing observations over the highland pastures in Kyrgyzstan to address five interrelated topics: (i) changes in snow cover and its seasonality from 2002 through 2016; (ii) pasture phenology from the perspective of land surface phenology using multi-scale data from 2001 through 2017; (iii) relationships between snow cover seasonality and subsequent land surface phenology; (iv) terrain effects on the snow-phenology interrelations; and (v) the influence of atmospheric teleconnections on modulating the relationships between snow cover seasonality, growing season duration, and pasture phenology. Results indicate that more territory has been experiencing earlier snow onset than earlier snowmelt, and around equivalent areas with longer and shorter duration of snow seasons. Significant shifts toward earlier snow onset (snowmelt) occurred in western and central (eastern) Kyrgyzstan, and significant duration of the snow season shortening (extension) across western and eastern (northern and southwestern) Kyrgyzstan. Below 3400 m, there was a general trend of significantly earlier snowmelt, and this area of earlier snowmelt was 15 times greater in eastern than western rayons. In terms of land surface phenology, there was a predominant and significant trend of increasing peak greenness, and a significant positive relationship between snow covered dates and modeled peak greenness. While there were more negative correlations between snow cover onset and peak greenness, there were more positive correlations between snowmelt timing and peak greenness, meaning that a longer snow cover season increased the amplitude of peak greenness. The amount of thermal time (measured in accumulated growing degree-days) to reach peak greenness was significantly negatively correlated both with the number of snow covered dates and the snowmelt date. Thus, more snow covered dates translated into fewer growing degree-days accumulated to reach peak greenness in the subsequent growing season. Terrain features influenced the timing of snowmelt more strongly than the number of snow covered dates. Slope was more important than aspect, but the strongest effect appeared from the interaction of aspect and the steepest slopes. The influence of atmospheric teleconnection arising from climate oscillation modes was marginal at the spatial resolutions of this study. Thermal time accumulation could be largely explained with Partial Least Squares (PLS) regression models by elevation and snow cover metrics. However, explanation of peak greenness was less susceptible to terrain and snow cover variables. This research study provides a comprehensive evaluation of the spatial variation of interannual phenology in the highland pastures that serve as the foundation of rural Kyrgyz economy. Finally, it contributes to a better understanding of recent environmental changes in remote highland Central Asia.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Landscape changes -- Kyrgyzstan -- Remote sensing.
Land use, Rural -- Kyrgyzstan.
Pasture ecology -- Kyrgyzstan.
Climatic changes -- Kyrgyzstan.



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright