Light use efficiency (LUE), which characterizes the efficiency with which vegetation converts captured/absorbed radiation into organic dry matter through photosynthesis, is a key parameter for estimating vegetation gross primary productivity (GPP). Studies suggest that diffuse radiation induces a higher LUE than direct radiation in short-term and site-scale experiments. The clearness index (CI), described as the fraction of solar incident radiation on the surface of the earth to the extraterrestrial radiation at the top of the atmosphere, is added to the parameterization approach to explain the conditions of diffuse and direct radiation in this study. Machine learning methods—such as the Cubist regression tree approach—are also popular approaches for studying vegetation carbon uptake. This paper aims to compare and analyze the performances of three different approaches for estimating global LUE and GPP. The methods for collecting LUE were based on the following: (1) parameterization approach without CI; (2) parameterization approach with CI; and (3) Cubist regression tree approach. We collected GPP and meteorological data from 180 FLUXNET sites as calibration and validation data and the Global Land Surface Satellite (GLASS) products and ERA-interim data as input data to estimate the global LUE and GPP in 2014. Site-scale validation with FLUXNET measurements indicated that the Cubist regression approach performed better than the parameterization approaches. However, when applying the approaches to global LUE and GPP, the parameterization approach with the CI became the most reliable approach, then closely followed by the parameterization approach without the CI. Spatial analysis showed that the addition of the CI improved the LUE and GPP, especially in high-value zones. The results of the Cubist regression tree approach illustrate more fluctuations than the parameterization approaches. Although the distributions of LUE presented variations over different seasons, vegetation had the highest LUE, at approximately 1.5 gC/MJ, during the whole year in equatorial regions (e.g., South America, middle Africa and Southeast Asia). The three approaches produced roughly consistent global annual GPPs ranging from 109.23 to 120.65 Pg/yr. Our results suggest the parameterization approaches are robust when extrapolating to the global scale, of which the parameterization approach with CI performs slightly better than that without CI. By contrast, the Cubist regression tree produced LUE and GPP with lower accuracy even though it performed the best for model validation at the site scale.
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