High spatial resolution monitoring land surface energy, water and CO2 fluxes from an Unmanned Aerial System

Sheng Wang*, Monica Garcia, Peter Bauer-Gottwein, Jakob Jakobsen, Pablo J. Zarco-Tejada, Filippo Bandini, Verónica Sobejano Paz, Andreas Ibrom

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


High spatial resolution maps of land surface energy, water and CO 2 fluxes, e.g. evapotranspiration (ET)and gross primary productivity (GPP), are important for agricultural monitoring, ecosystem and water resources management. However, it is not clear which is the optimal (e.g. coarsest possible)spatial resolution to capture those fluxes accurately. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)can address this by collecting very high spatial resolution (<1 m, VHR)imagery. The objective of this study is to model ET and GPP dynamics using VHR optical and thermal imagery and quantify the influence of the spatial heterogeneity in the flux simulations and validations. The study was conducted at a deciduous willow bioenergy eddy covariance (EC)flux site in Denmark. Flight campaigns were conducted during the growing seasons of 2016 and 2017 with a hexacopter equipped with RGB, multispectral and thermal infrared cameras. A ‘top-down’ modeling approach consisting of the Priestley–Taylor Jet Propulsion Laboratory model and a light use efficiency model sharing the same canopy biophysical constraints was used to estimate ET and GPP. Model outputs were benchmarked by EC flux observations with the source weighted footprint. Our results indicate that our model can well estimate the instantaneous net radiation, ET, GPP, evaporative fraction, light use efficiency and water use efficiency with root-mean-square deviations (RMSD)of 31.6 W·m −2 , 41.2 W·m −2 , 3.12 μmol·C·m −2 ·s −1 , 0.08, 0.16 g·C·MJ −1 and 0.35 g·C·kg −1 , respectively. Further, it is found that using a footprint model to sample different areas of VHR imagery can be a tool to provide better diurnal estimates to benchmark with EC data. Moreover, these VHR maps (0.3 m)allowed us to quantify metrics of spatial heterogeneity by using semivariogram analysis and by aggregating model inputs into different spatial resolutions. For instance, we find that in this site, the aggregation of simulated GPP using the source weighted mean of the EC footprint was about 30% lower in RMSD than using the arithmetic mean of the footprint. This demonstrates the accuracy of the modeled VHR spatial patterns. Nevertheless, we also find that imagery resolution consistent with the canopy size (around 1.5 m in our study)is sufficient to capture the spatial heterogeneity of the fluxes as transpiration and canopy assimilation of CO 2 are processes regulated at the tree crown level. Our results highlight the importance of considering the land surface heterogeneity for flux modeling and the source contribution within the EC footprint for model benchmarking at appropriate spatial resolutions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Pages (from-to)14-31
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Eddy covariance
  • Evapotranspiration
  • Gross primary productivity
  • Instantaneous and diurnal
  • Optical and thermal remote sensing
  • Spatial heterogeneity

Cite this