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Understanding the relationship between vegetation greenness and productivity across dryland ecosystems through the integration of PhenoCam, satellite, and eddy covariance data

Yan, D., Scott, R.L., Moore, D.J.P., Biederman, J.A., Smith, W.K.
Remote sensing of environment 2019 v.223 pp. 50-62
Landsat, arid lands, carbon, data collection, ecosystems, eddy covariance, gross primary productivity, models, moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer, photosynthesis, remote sensing, uncertainty, vegetation, vegetation index, Southwestern United States
Drylands account for approximately 40% of the global land surface and play a dominant role in the trend and variability of terrestrial carbon uptake and storage. Gross ecosystem photosynthesis – termed gross primary productivity (GPP) – is a critical driver of terrestrial carbon uptake and remains challenging to be observed directly. Currently, vegetation indices that largely capture changes in greenness are the most commonly used datasets in satellite-based GPP modeling. However, there remains significant uncertainty in the spatiotemporal relationship between greenness indices and GPP, especially for relatively heterogeneous dryland ecosystems. In this paper, we compared vegetation greenness indices from PhenoCam and satellite (Landsat and MODIS) observations against GPP estimates from the eddy covariance technique, across three representative ecosystem types of the southwestern United States. We systematically evaluated the changes in the relationship between vegetation greenness indices and GPP: i) across spatial scales of canopy-level, 30-meter, and 500-meter resolution; and ii) across temporal scale of daily, 8-day, 16-day, and monthly resolution. We found that greenness-GPP relationships were independent of spatial scales as long as land cover type and composition remained relatively constant. We also found that the greenness-GPP relationships became stronger as the time interval increased, with the strongest relationships observed at the monthly resolution. We posit that the greenness-GPP relationship breaks down at short timescales because greenness changes more slowly than plant physiological function, which responds rapidly to changes in key biophysical drivers. These findings provide insights into the potential for and limitations of modeling GPP using remotely sensed greenness indices across dryland ecosystem types.