The global distribution of leaf chlorophyll content Academic Article uri icon

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  • Leaf chlorophyll is central to the exchange of carbon, water and energy between the biosphere and the atmosphere, and to the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. This paper presents the first spatially-continuous view of terrestrial leaf chlorophyll content (ChlLₑₐf) at the global scale. Weekly maps of ChlLₑₐf were produced from ENVISAT MERIS full resolution (300 m) satellite data using a two-stage physically-based radiative transfer modelling approach. Firstly, leaf-level reflectance was derived from top-of-canopy satellite reflectance observations using 4-Scale and SAIL canopy radiative transfer models for woody and non-woody vegetation, respectively. Secondly, the modelled leaf-level reflectance was input into the PROSPECT leaf-level radiative transfer model to derive ChlLₑₐf. The ChlLₑₐf retrieval algorithm was validated using measured ChlLₑₐf data from 248 sample measurements at 28 field locations, and covering six plant functional types (PFTs). Modelled results show strong relationships with field measurements, particularly for deciduous broadleaf forests (R² = 0.67; RMSE = 9.25 μg cm⁻²; p < 0.001), croplands (R² = 0.41; RMSE = 13.18 μg cm⁻²; p < 0.001) and evergreen needleleaf forests (R² = 0.47; RMSE = 10.63 μg cm⁻²; p < 0.001). When the modelled results from all PFTs were considered together, the overall relationship with measured ChlLₑₐf remained good (R² = 0.47, RMSE = 10.79 μg cm⁻²; p < 0.001). This result is an improvement on the relationship between measured ChlLₑₐf and a commonly used chlorophyll-sensitive spectral vegetation index; the MERIS Terrestrial Chlorophyll Index (MTCI; R² = 0.27, p < 0.001). The global maps show large temporal and spatial variability in ChlLₑₐf, with evergreen broadleaf forests presenting the highest leaf chlorophyll values, with global annual median values of 54.4 μg cm⁻². Distinct seasonal ChlLₑₐf phenologies are also visible, particularly in deciduous plant forms, associated with budburst and crop growth, and leaf senescence. It is anticipated that this global ChlLₑₐf product will make an important step towards the explicit consideration of leaf-level biochemistry in terrestrial water, energy and carbon cycle modelling.


  • Croft, H
  • Chen, Jing
  • Wang, R
  • Mo, G
  • Luo, S
  • Luo, X
  • He, L
  • Gonsamo Gosa, Alemu
  • Arabian, J
  • Zhang, Y
  • Simic-Milas, A
  • Noland, TL
  • He, Y
  • Homolová, L
  • Malenovský, Z
  • Yi, Q
  • Beringer, J
  • Amiri, R
  • Hutley, L
  • Arellano, P
  • Stahl, C
  • Bonal, D

publication date

  • January 2020