Upscaling leaf area index in an Arctic landscape through multiscale observations

M. Williams, R. Bell, L. Spadavecchia, Lorna Street, M. T. Van Wijk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Monitoring and understanding global change requires a detailed focus on upscaling, the process for extrapolating from the site-specific scale to the smallest scale resolved in regional or global models or earth observing systems. Leaf area index (LAI) is one of the most sensitive determinants of plant production and can vary by an order of magnitude over short distances. The landscape distribution of LAI is generally determined by remote sensing of surface reflectance (e.g. normalized difference vegetation index, NDVI) but the mismatch in scales between ground and satellite measurements complicates LAI upscaling. Here, we describe a series of measurements to quantify the spatial distribution of LAI in a sub-Arctic landscape and then describe the upscaling process and its associated errors. Working from a fine-scale harvest LAI-NDVI relationship, we collected NDVI data over a 500 m x 500 m catchment in the Swedish Arctic, at resolutions from 0.2 to 9.0 m in a nested sampling design. NDVI scaled linearly, so that NDVI at any scale was a simple average of multiple NDVI measurements taken at finer scales. The LAI-NDVI relationship was scale invariant from 1.5 to 9.0 m resolution. Thus, a single exponential LAI-NDVI relationship was valid at all these scales, with similar prediction errors. Vegetation patches were of a scale of similar to 0.5 m and at measurement scales coarser than this, there was a sharp drop in LAI variance. Landsat NDVI data for the study catchment correlated significantly, but poorly, with ground-based measurements. A variety of techniques were used to construct LAI maps, including interpolation by inverse distance weighting, ordinary Kriging, External Drift Kriging using Landsat data, and direct estimation from a Landsat NDVI-LAI calibration. All methods produced similar LAI estimates and overall errors. However, Kriging approaches also generated maps of LAI estimation error based on semivariograms. The spatial variability of this Arctic landscape was such that local measurements assimilated by Kriging approaches had a limited spatial influence. Over scales > 50 m, interpolation error was of similar magnitude to the error in the Landsat NDVI calibration. The characterisation of LAI spatial error in this study is a key step towards developing spatio-temporal data assimilation systems for assessing C cycling in terrestrial ecosystems by combining models with field and remotely sensed data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1517-1530
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008


  • Arctic
  • data assimilation
  • geostatistics
  • Kriging
  • LAI
  • Landsat
  • NDVI
  • remote sensing
  • semivariogram
  • tundra


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