Quantifying vegetation biophysical variables from the Sentinel-3/FLEX tandem mission: Evaluation of the synergy of OLCI and FLORIS data sources

The ESA's forthcoming FLuorescence EXplorer (FLEX) mission is dedicated to the global monitoring of the vegetation's chlorophyll fluorescence by means of an imaging spectrometer, FLORIS. In order to properly interpret the fluorescence signal in relation to photosynthetic activity, essential vegetation variables need to be retrieved concomitantly. FLEX will fly in tandem with Sentinel-3 (S3), which conveys the Ocean and Land Colour Instrument (OLCI) that is designed to characterize the atmosphere and the terrestrial vegetation at a spatial resolution of 300 m. In this work we present the retrieval models of four essential biophysical variables: (1) Leaf Area Index (LAI), (2) leaf chlorophyll content (Cab), (3) fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation (fAPAR), and (4) fractional vegetation cover (FCover). These variables can be operationally inferred by hybrid retrieval approaches, which combine the generalization capabilities offered by radiative transfer models (RTMs) with the flexibility and computational efficiency of machine learning methods. The RTM SCOPE (Soil Canopy Observation, Photochemistry and Energy fluxes) was used to generate a database of reflectance spectra corresponding to a large variety of canopy realizations, which served subsequently as input to train a Gaussian Process Regression (GPR) algorithm for each targeted variable. Three sets of GPR models were developed, based on different spectral band settings: (1) OLCI (21 bands between 400 and 1040 nm), (2) FLORIS (281 bands between 500 and 780 nm), and (3) their synergy. Their respective performances were assessed based on simulated reflectance scenes. Regarding the retrieval of Cab, the OLCI model gave good model performances (R2: 0.91; RMSE: 7.6 μg. cm−2), yet superior accuracies were achieved as a result of FLORIS' higher spectral resolution (R2: 0.96; RMSE: 4.8 μg. cm−2). The synergy of both datasets did not further enhance the variable retrieval. Regarding LAI, the improvement of the model performances by using only FLORIS spectra (R2: 0.87; RMSE: 1.05 m2.m−2) rather than only OLCI spectra (R2: 0.86; RMSE: 1.12 m2.m−2) was less evident but merging both data sets was more beneficial (R2: 0.88; RMSE: 1.01 m2.m−2). Finally, the three data sources gave good model performances for the retrieval of fAPAR and Fcover, with the best performing model being the Synergy model (fAPAR: R2: 0.99; RMSE: 0.02 and FCover: R2: 0.98; RMSE: 0.04). The ability of the models to process real data was subsequently demonstrated by applying the OLCI models to S3 surface reflectance products acquired over Western Europe and Argentina. Obtained maps showed consistent patterns and variable ranges, and comparison against corresponding Sentinel-2 products (coarsened to a 300 m spatial resolution) led to reasonable matches (R2: 0.5–0.7). Altogether, given the availability of the multiple data sources, the FLEX tandem mission will foster unique opportunities to quantify essential vegetation properties, and hence facilitate the interpretation of the measured fluorescence levels.
Charlotte De Grave, Jochem Verrelst, Pablo Morcillo-Pallarés, Luca Pipia, Juan Pablo Rivera-Caicedo, Eatidal Amin, Santiago Belda, José Moreno
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Remote Sensing of Environment
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