Continuous ground monitoring of vegetation optical depth and water content with...

Humphrey, V., and C. Frankenberg (2023), Continuous ground monitoring of vegetation optical depth and water content with GPS signals, Biogeosciences, doi:10.5194/bg-20-1789-2023.

Satellite microwave remote sensing techniques can be used to monitor vegetation optical depth (VOD), a metric which is directly linked to vegetation biomass and water content. However, these large-scale measurements are still difficult to reference against either rare or not directly comparable field observations. So far, in situ estimates of canopy biomass or water status often rely on infrequent and time-consuming destructive samples, which are not necessarily representative of the canopy scale. Here, we present a simple technique based on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) with the potential to bridge this persisting scale gap. Because GNSS microwave signals are attenuated and scattered by vegetation and liquid water, placing a GNSS sensor under a vegetated canopy and measuring changes in signal strength over time can provide continuous information about VOD and thus on vegetation biomass and water content. We test this technique at a forested site in southern California for a period of 8 months. We show that variations in GNSS signal-to-noise ratios reflect the overall distribution of biomass density in the canopy and can be monitored continuously. For the first time, we show that this technique can resolve diurnal variations in VOD and canopy water content at hourly to sub-hourly time steps. Using a model of canopy transmissivity to assess these diurnal signals, we find that temperature effects on the vegetation dielectric constant, and thus on VOD, may be non-negligible at the diurnal scale or during extreme events like heat waves. Sensitivity to rainfall and dew deposition events also suggests that canopy water interception can be monitored with this approach. The technique presented here has the potential to resolve two important knowledge gaps, namely the lack of ground truth observations for satellite-based VOD and the need for a reliable proxy to extrapolate isolated and labor-intensive in situ measurements of biomass, canopy water content, or leaf water potential. We provide recommendations for deploying such off-the-shelf and easy-to-use systems at existing ecohydrological monitoring networks such as FluxNet or SapfluxNet.

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