Zhao, Y; Chen, XQ; Smallman, TL; Flack-Prain, S; Milodowski, DT; Williams, M (2020). Characterizing the Error and Bias of Remotely Sensed LAI Products: An Example for Tropical and Subtropical Evergreen Forests in South China. REMOTE SENSING, 12(19), 3122.

Leaf area is a key parameter underpinning ecosystem carbon, water and energy exchanges via photosynthesis, transpiration and absorption of radiation, from local to global scales. Satellite-based Earth Observation (EO) can provide estimates of leaf area index (LAI) with global coverage and high temporal frequency. However, the error and bias contained within these EO products and their variation in time and across spatial resolutions remain poorly understood. Here, we used nearly 8000 in situ measurements of LAI from six forest environments in southern China to evaluate the magnitude, uncertainty, and dynamics of three widely used EO LAI products. The finer spatial resolution GEOV3 PROBA-V 300 m LAI product best estimates the observed LAI from a multi-site dataset (R-2 = 0.45, bias = -0.54 m(2) m(-2), RMSE = 1.21 m(2) m(-2)) and importantly captures canopy dynamics well, including the amplitude and phase. The GEOV2 PROBA-V 1 km LAI product performed the next best (R-2 = 0.36, bias = -2.04 m(2) m(-2), RMSE = 2.32 m(2) m(-2)) followed by MODIS 500 m LAI (R-2 = 0.20, bias = -1.47 m(2) m(-2), RMSE = 2.29 m(2) m(-2)). The MODIS 500 m product did not capture the temporal dynamics observed in situ across southern China. The uncertainties estimated by each of the EO products are substantially smaller (3-5 times) than the observed bias for EO products against in situ measurements. Thus, reported product uncertainties are substantially underestimated and do not fully account for their total uncertainty. Overall, our analysis indicates that both the retrieval algorithm and spatial resolution play an important role in accurately estimating LAI for the dense canopy forests in Southern China. When constraining models of the carbon cycle and other ecosystem processes are run, studies should assume that current EO product LAI uncertainty estimates underestimate their true uncertainty value.