Satellite detection of soil moisture related water stress impacts on ecosystem productivity using the MODIS-based photochemical reflectance index

Mingzhu He, John S. Kimball, Steven Running, Ashley Ballantyne, Kaiyu Guan, Fred Huemmrich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Satellite remote sensing provides continuous observations of vegetation properties that can be used to estimate global terrestrial ecosystem gross primary production (GPP). The Photochemical Reflectance Index (PRI) has been shown to be sensitive to vegetation photosynthetic light use efficiency (LUE), GPP and canopy water-stress. Here, we use the NASA EOS MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) based PRI with eddy covariance CO2 flux measurements and meteorological observations from 20 tower sites representing major plant functional type (PFT) classes within the continental USA (CONUS) to assess GPP sensitivity to soil moisture related water stress. The sPRI (scaled PRI) metric derived using MODIS band 13 as a reference channel (sPRI13) shows generally higher correspondence with tower GPP estimates than other potential MODIS reference bands. The sPRI13 observations were used as a proxy for soil moisture related water supply constraints to LUE within a satellite data driven terrestrial carbon flux model to estimate GPP (GPPPRI). The GPPPRI calculations show generally favorable correspondence with tower GPP estimates (0.457 ≤ R2 ≤ 0.818), except for lower GPPPRI performance over evergreen needleleaf forest (ENF) sites. A regional model sensitivity analysis using the sPRI13 as a water supply proxy indicated that water restrictions limit GPP over more than 21% of the CONUS domain, particularly in drier climate areas where atmospheric moisture deficits (VPD) alone are insufficient to represent both atmosphere demand and water supply controls affecting productivity. Our results indicate strong potential of the MODIS sPRI13 to represent soil moisture related water supply controls influencing photosynthesis, with enhanced (1-km resolution) delineation of these processes closer to the scale of in situ tower observations. These observations may provide an effective tool for characterizing sub-grid spatial heterogeneity in soil moisture related controls that inform coarser scale observations and estimates determined from other satellite observations and earth system models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-183
Number of pages11
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Gross primary production (GPP)
  • Photochemical reflectance index (PRI)
  • Soil moisture
  • TCF LUE model


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