National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Date of this Version



Published in Remote Sensing of Environment 113 (2009).


Gross primary production (GPP), the photosynthetic uptake of carbon, is an important variable in the global carbon cycle. Although continuous measurements of GPP are being collected from a network of micrometeorological towers, each site represents a small area with records available for only a limited period. As a result, GPP is commonly modeled over forested landscapes as a function of climatic and soil variables, often supplemented with satellite-derived estimates of the vegetation's light-absorbing properties. Since the late 1990s, a number of models have been developed to provide seasonal and annual estimates of GPP across much of the Earth. Each model, however, contains different underlying assumptions and requires different amounts of data. As a result, predictions vary, sometimes significantly. In this paper we compare modeled estimates of GPP for forested areas across the U.S.A. derived from: NASA's MODIS Product (MOD17); the C-Fix model using SPOT-VGT satellite-derived vegetation data; and the Physiological Principles Predicting Growth from Satellites (3-PGS) model, a process-based model that requires information on both climate and soil properties. The models predicted average ecoregion values of forest GPP between 9.8 and 14.1 MgC ha−1 y−1 across the United States. 3-PGS predicted the lowest values while the C-Fix model, which included a CO2 fertilization factor, produced the highest estimates. In the western part of the country, estimates of GPP within a given ecoregion varied by as much as 50%, whereas in the northeast, where topography and climate are less extreme, variation in GPP was less than 10%. Within ecoregions, 3PGS predicted the most variation, reflecting its sensitivity to variation in soil properties. We conclude that where model predictions disagree, an opportunity is presented to evaluate underlying assumptions through sensitivity analyses, additional data collection and where more detailed study is warranted.