Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Biogeosciences, 15, 5473–5487, 2018


Author(s) 2018.


Modern eddy covariance (EC) systems collect high-frequency data (10–20 Hz) via digital outputs of instruments. This is an important evolution with respect to the traditional and widely used mixed analog/digital systems, as fully digital systems help overcome the traditional limitations of transmission reliability, data quality, and completeness of the datasets.

However, fully digital acquisition introduces a new problem for guaranteeing data synchronicity when the clocks of the involved devices themselves cannot be synchronized, which is often the case with instruments providing data via serial or Ethernet connectivity in a streaming mode. In this paper, we suggest that, when assembling EC systems “inhouse”, aspects related to timing issues need to be carefully considered to avoid significant flux biases.

By means of a simulation study, we found that, in most cases, random timing errors can safely be neglected, as they do not impact fluxes significantly. At the same time, systematic timing errors potentially arising in asynchronous systems can effectively act as filters leading to significant flux underestimations, as large as 10 %, by means of attenuation of high-frequency flux contributions. We characterized the transfer function of such “filters” as a function of the error magnitude and found cutoff frequencies as low as 1 Hz, implying that synchronization errors can dominate high-frequency attenuations in open- and enclosed-path EC systems. In most cases, such timing errors neither be detected nor characterized a posteriori. Therefore, it is important to test the ability of traditional and prospective EC data logging systems to assure the required synchronicity and propose a procedure to implement such a test relying on readily available equipment.