Satellite-based solar-induced fluorescence tracks seasonal and elevational patterns of photosynthesis in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains

Lewis Kunik, David R. Bowling, Brett Raczka, Christian Frankenberg, Philipp Köhler, Rui Cheng, Kenneth R. Smith, Michael Goulden, Martin Jung, John C. Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Robust carbon monitoring systems are needed for land managers to assess and mitigate the changing effects of ecosystem stress on western United States forests, where most aboveground carbon is stored in mountainous areas. Atmospheric carbon uptake via gross primary productivity (GPP) is an important indicator of ecosystem function and is particularly relevant to carbon monitoring systems. However, limited ground-based observations in remote areas with complex topography represent a significant challenge for tracking regional-scale GPP. Satellite observations can help bridge these monitoring gaps, but the accuracy of remote sensing methods for inferring GPP is still limited in montane evergreen needleleaf biomes, where (a) photosynthetic activity is largely decoupled from canopy structure and chlorophyll content, and (b) strong heterogeneity in phenology and atmospheric conditions is difficult to resolve in space and time. Using monthly solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence (SIF) sampled at ∼4 km from the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI), we show that high-resolution satellite-observed SIF followed ecological expectations of seasonal and elevational patterns of GPP across a 3000 m elevation gradient in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. After accounting for the effects of high reflected radiance in TROPOMI SIF due to snow cover, the seasonal and elevational patterns of SIF were well correlated with GPP estimates from a machine-learning model (FLUXCOM) and a land surface model (CLM5.0-SP), outperforming other spectral vegetation indices. Differences in the seasonality of TROPOMI SIF and GPP estimates were likely attributed to misrepresentation of moisture limitation and winter photosynthetic activity in FLUXCOM and CLM5.0 respectively, as indicated by discrepancies with GPP derived from eddy covariance observations in the southern Sierra Nevada. These results suggest that satellite-observed SIF can serve as a useful diagnostic and constraint to improve upon estimates of GPP toward multiscale carbon monitoring systems in montane, evergreen conifer biomes at regional scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number014008
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.


  • carbon monitoring systems
  • community land model (CLM)
  • elevation gradient
  • gross primary productivity (GPP)
  • solar-induced fluorescence (SIF)
  • topography


Dive into the research topics of 'Satellite-based solar-induced fluorescence tracks seasonal and elevational patterns of photosynthesis in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this