Detecting drift bias and exposure errors in solar and photosynthetically active radiation data

J. D. Wood, T. J. Griffis, J. M. Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


All-black thermopile pyranometers are commonly used to measure solar radiation. Ensuring that the sensors are stable and free of drift is critical to accurately measure small variations in global solar irradiance at the Earth's surface (K↓), which is a potential driver of changes in surface temperature. We demonstrate that the decreased responsivities of Eppley PSP pyranometers of -1.5%y-1, or -0.38% (GJm-2)-1, were accompanied by a change in its spectral response owing to a discoloration of the sensing element. These observations motivated further work to develop routines to detect probable pyranometer drift in historical time-series. The temporal trends in the following ratios were used to detect pyranometer sensor drift: photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) to K↓, K↓ to KEX (extraterrestrial radiation at the top of the atmosphere) and PAR to KEX. Data from 8 AmeriFlux sites spanning latitudes from ~32 to 54°N were examined in this analysis. Probable drift in either a pyranometer or PAR sensor was identified at 5 of the 8 sites. The magnitude of the drift represented changes of 0.15-0.85%y-1, which is sufficient to obscure actual trends in K↓, although these should be considered conservative low end drift estimates, given that we were not making comparisons to co-located higher grade instruments. Deployment exposure errors caused by sensor shading were also discovered by comparing the daily correlations between (i) K↓ and KEX and (ii) PAR and KEX. Sensors drifting at rates similar to our defective PSP over a 5 year period would contribute to an underestimation of available energy of ~70Wm-2, which is non-trivial in the context of assessing eddy covariance energy balance closure, employing Penman-Monteith or Bowen ratio methods or calculating albedo radiative forcings. Given that probable drift was identified at multiple AmeriFlux sites, we recommend enhancing network access to calibration services that are traceable to a high quality gold standard.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-44
Number of pages12
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - Jun 5 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Change point
  • Drift detection
  • Radiation exposure
  • Sensor fading


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