A thermal-based remote sensing technique for routine mapping of land-surface carbon, water and energy fluxes from field to regional scales

M. C. Anderson*, J. M. Norman, W. P. Kustas, R. Houborg, P. J. Starks, N. Agam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

418 Scopus citations


Robust yet simple remote sensing methodologies for mapping instantaneous land-surface fluxes of water, energy and CO2 exchange within a coupled framework add significant value to large-scale monitoring networks like FLUXNET, facilitating upscaling of tower flux observations to address questions of regional carbon cycling and water availability. This study investigates the implementation of an analytical, light-use efficiency (LUE) based model of canopy resistance within a Two-Source Energy Balance (TSEB) scheme driven primarily by thermal remote sensing inputs. The LUE model computes coupled canopy-scale carbon assimilation and transpiration fluxes, and replaces a Priestley-Taylor (PT) based transpiration estimate used in the original form of the TSEB model. In turn, the thermal remote sensing data provide valuable diagnostic information about the sub-surface moisture status, obviating the need for precipitation input data and prognostic modeling of the soil water balance. Both the LUE and PT forms of the model are compared with eddy covariance tower measurements acquired in rangeland near El Reno, OK. The LUE method resulted in improved partitioning of the surface energy budget, capturing effects of midday stomatal closure in response to increased vapor pressure deficit and reducing errors in half-hourly flux predictions from 16 to 12%. The spatial distribution of CO2 flux was mapped over the El Reno study area using data from an airborne thermal imaging system and compared to fluxes measured by an aircraft flying a transect over rangeland, riparian areas, and harvested winter wheat. Soil respiration contributions to the net carbon flux were modeled spatially using remotely sensed estimates of soil surface temperature, soil moisture, and leaf area index. Modeled carbon and water fluxes from this heterogeneous landscape compared well in magnitude and spatial pattern to the aircraft fluxes. The thermal inputs proved to be valuable in modifying the effective LUE from a nominal species-dependent value. The model associates cooler canopy temperatures with enhanced transpiration, indicating higher canopy conductance and carbon assimilation rates. The surface energy balance constraint in this modeling approach provides a useful and physically intuitive mechanism for incorporating subtle signatures of soil moisture deficiencies and reduced stomatal aperture, manifest in the thermal band signal, into the coupled carbon and water flux estimates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4227-4241
Number of pages15
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 15 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbon assimilation
  • Evapotranspiration
  • Soil respiration
  • Surface energy balance
  • Thermal remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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