Spatial Heterogeneity of Leaf Area Index (LAI) and Its Temporal Course on Arable Land: Combining Field Measurements, Remote Sensing and Simulation in a Comprehensive Data Analysis Approach (CDAA)

Tim G Reichenau, Wolfgang Korres, Carsten Montzka, Peter Fiener, Florian Wilken, Anja Stadler, Guido Waldhoff, Karl Schneider
PloS One 2016, 11 (7): e0158451
The ratio of leaf area to ground area (leaf area index, LAI) is an important state variable in ecosystem studies since it influences fluxes of matter and energy between the land surface and the atmosphere. As a basis for generating temporally continuous and spatially distributed datasets of LAI, the current study contributes an analysis of its spatial variability and spatial structure. Soil-vegetation-atmosphere fluxes of water, carbon and energy are nonlinearly related to LAI. Therefore, its spatial heterogeneity, i.e., the combination of spatial variability and structure, has an effect on simulations of these fluxes. To assess LAI spatial heterogeneity, we apply a Comprehensive Data Analysis Approach that combines data from remote sensing (5 m resolution) and simulation (150 m resolution) with field measurements and a detailed land use map. Test area is the arable land in the fertile loess plain of the Rur catchment on the Germany-Belgium-Netherlands border. LAI from remote sensing and simulation compares well with field measurements. Based on the simulation results, we describe characteristic crop-specific temporal patterns of LAI spatial variability. By means of these patterns, we explain the complex multimodal frequency distributions of LAI in the remote sensing data. In the test area, variability between agricultural fields is higher than within fields. Therefore, spatial resolutions less than the 5 m of the remote sensing scenes are sufficient to infer LAI spatial variability. Frequency distributions from the simulation agree better with the multimodal distributions from remote sensing than normal distributions do. The spatial structure of LAI in the test area is dominated by a short distance referring to field sizes. Longer distances that refer to soil and weather can only be derived from remote sensing data. Therefore, simulations alone are not sufficient to characterize LAI spatial structure. It can be concluded that a comprehensive picture of LAI spatial heterogeneity and its temporal course can contribute to the development of an approach to create spatially distributed and temporally continuous datasets of LAI.


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