Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Biogeosciences, 12, 4509–4523, 2015


© Author(s) 2015.



The purpose of this review is to address the reasons and methods for conducting optical remote sensing within the flux tower footprint. Fundamental principles and conclusions gleaned from over 2 decades of proximal remote sensing at flux tower sites are reviewed. The organizing framework used here is the light-use efficiency (LUE) model, both because it is widely used, and because it provides a useful theoretical construct for integrating optical remote sensing with flux measurements. Multiple ways of driving this model, ranging from meteorological measurements to remote sensing, have emerged in recent years, making it a convenient conceptual framework for comparative experimental studies. New interpretations of established optical sampling methods, including the photochemical reflectance index (PRI) and solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence (SIF), are discussed within the context of the LUE model. Multiscale analysis across temporal and spatial axes is a central theme because such scaling can provide links between ecophysiological mechanisms detectable at the level of individual organisms and broad patterns emerging at larger scales, enabling evaluation of emergent properties and extrapolation to the flux footprint and beyond. Proper analysis of the sampling scale requires an awareness of sampling context that is often essential to the proper interpretation of optical signals. Additionally, the concept of optical types, vegetation exhibiting contrasting optical behavior in time and space, is explored as a way to frame our understanding of the controls on surface–atmosphere fluxes. Complementary normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and PRI patterns across ecosystems are offered as an example of this hypothesis, with the LUE model and light-response curve providing an integrating framework. I conclude that experimental approaches allowing systematic exploration of plant optical behavior in the context of the flux tower network provides a unique way to improve our understanding of environmental constraints and ecophysiological function. In addition to an enhanced mechanistic understanding of ecosystem processes, this integration of remote sensing with flux measurements offers many rich opportunities for upscaling, satellite validation, and informing practical management objectives ranging from assessing ecosystem health and productivity to quantifying biospheric carbon sequestration.