Improving Global Gross Primary Productivity Estimates by Computing Optimum Light Use Efficiencies Using Flux Tower Data

Nima Madani, John S. Kimball, Steven W. Running

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


In the light use efficiency (LUE) approach of estimating the gross primary productivity (GPP), plant productivity is linearly related to absorbed photosynthetically active radiation assuming that plants absorb and convert solar energy into biomass within a maximum LUE (LUEmax) rate, which is assumed to vary conservatively within a given biome type. However, it has been shown that photosynthetic efficiency can vary within biomes. In this study, we used 149 global CO2 flux towers to derive the optimum LUE (LUEopt) under prevailing climate conditions for each tower location, stratified according to model training and test sites. Unlike LUEmax, LUEopt varies according to heterogeneous landscape characteristics and species traits. The LUEopt data showed large spatial variability within and between biome types, so that a simple biome classification explained only 29% of LUEopt variability over 95 global tower training sites. The use of explanatory variables in a mixed effect regression model explained 62.2% of the spatial variability in tower LUEopt data. The resulting regression model was used for global extrapolation of the LUEopt data and GPP estimation. The GPP estimated using the new LUEopt map showed significant improvement relative to global tower data, including a 15% R2 increase and 34% root-mean-square error reduction relative to baseline GPP calculations derived from biome-specific LUEmax constants. The new global LUEopt map is expected to improve the performance of LUE-based GPP algorithms for better assessment and monitoring of global terrestrial productivity and carbon dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2939-2951
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Carbon Cycle
  • Gross Primary Productivity (GPP)
  • Light Use Efficiency (LUE)
  • Remote Sensing


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