Using a simple apparatus to measure direct and diffuse photosynthe.tically active radiation at remote locations

Michael J. Cruse, Christopher J. Kucharik, John M. Norman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Plant canopy interception of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) drives carbon dioxide (CO2), water and energy cycling in the soil-plant-atmosphere system. Quantifying intercepted PAR requires accurate measurements of total incident PAR above canopies and direct beam and diffuse PAR components. While some regional data sets include these data, e.g. from Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Program sites, they are not often applicable to local research sites because of the variable nature (spatial and temporal) of environmental variables that influence incoming PAR. Currently available instrumentation that measures diffuse and direct beam radiation separately can be cost prohibitive and require frequent adjustments. Alternatively, generalized empirical relationships that relate atmospheric variables and radiation components can be used but require assumptions that increase the potential for error. Our goal here was to construct and test a cheaper, highly portable instrument alternative that could be used at remote field sites to measure total, diffuse and direct beam PAR for extended time periods without supervision. The apparatus tested here uses a fabricated, solar powered rotating shadowband and other commercially available parts to collect continuous hourly PAR data. Measurements of total incident PAR had nearly a one-to-one relationship with total incident radiation measurements taken at the same research site by an unobstructed point quantum sensor. Additionally, measurements of diffuse PAR compared favorably with modeled estimates from previously published data, but displayed significant differences that were attributed to the important influence of rapidly changing local environmental conditions. The cost of the system is about 50% less than comparable commercially available systems that require periodic, but not continual adjustments. Overall, the data produced using this apparatus indicates that this instrumentation has the potential to support ecological research via a relatively inexpensive method to collect continuous measurements of total, direct beam and diffuse PAR in remote locations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0115633.
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 10 2015

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© 2015 Cruse et al.


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