Interacting Effects of Leaf Water Potential and Biomass on Vegetation Optical Depth

TitleInteracting Effects of Leaf Water Potential and Biomass on Vegetation Optical Depth
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsMomen M, Wood JD, Novick KA, Pangle R, Pockman WT, McDowell NG, Konings AG
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Start Page3031
Date Published11/2017
Accession NumberSEV.788

Remotely sensed microwave observations of vegetation optical depth (VOD) have been widely used for examining vegetation responses to climate. Nevertheless, the relative impacts of phenological changes in leaf biomass and water stress on VOD have not been explicitly disentangled. In particular, determining whether leaf water potential (ψL) affects VOD may allow these data sets as a constraint for plant hydraulic models. Here we test the sensitivity of VOD to variations in ψL and present a conceptual framework that relates VOD to ψL and total biomass including leaves, whose dynamics are measured through leaf area index, and woody components. We used measurements of ψL from three sites across the US—a mixed deciduous forests in Indiana and Missouri and a piñon-juniper woodland in New Mexico—to validate the conceptual model. The temporal dynamics of X-band VOD were similar to those of the VOD signal estimated from the new conceptual model with observed ψL (R2 = 0.6–0.8). At the global scale, accounting for a combination of biomass and estimated ψL (based on satellite surface soil moisture data) increased correlations with VOD by ~ 15% and 30% compared to biomass and water potential, respectively. In wetter regions with denser and taller canopy heights, VOD has a higher correlation with leaf area index than with water stress and vice versa in drier regions. Our results demonstrate that variations in both phenology and ψL must be considered to accurately interpret the dynamics of VOD observations for ecological applications.