A scalable plant-resolving radiative transfer model based on optimized GPU ray tracing

B. N. Bailey, M. Overby, P. Willemsen, E. R. Pardyjak, W. F. Mahaffee, R. Stoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


A new model for radiative transfer in participating media and its application to complex plant canopies is presented. The goal was to be able to efficiently solve complex canopy-scale radiative transfer problems while also representing sub-plant heterogeneity. In the model, individual leaf surfaces are not resolved, but rather vegetation is aggregated into isothermal volumes. Using the leaf angle distribution and leaf area density functions, the volumes realistically augment the radiation field through absorption and anisotropic scattering and re-emission. The volumes are grouped to form individual plants, and individual plants are grouped to form entire canopies. The model increases efficiency by performing ray tracing calculations on graphics processing units (GPUs) using the NVIDIA® OptiX™ and CUDA™ frameworks, and through efficient algorithms for radiation reflection, scattering, and emission. This efficiency allows for realistic representation of heterogeneity, while also allowing for the solution of problems with very large domains (~105 trees) quickly on an inexpensive desktop workstation. Problem execution time scaled nearly linearly with the number of discrete elements in the domain. Model results are compared with experimental data collected from an array of radiation sensors within and above a grapevine canopy and an isolated tree. Agreement between simulated and measured values of shortwave and longwave radiation were very good, with model predictions generally within the expected measurement accuracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-208
Number of pages17
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are indebted to J. Johnson and N. Miller, as well as numerous others for their support with the field experiments. This research was supported by National Science Foundation grants IDR CBET-PDM 1134580 and 1133590 , EPS 1208732 , and AGS 1255662 and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) project 5358-22000-039-00D. The use, trade, firm, or corporation names in this publication are for information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an endorsement or approval by the USDA or the Agricultural Research Service of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


  • Anisotropic radiation scattering
  • Graphics processing units
  • Participating media
  • Ray tracing
  • Tree radiative transfer

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