Combining vegetation index and model inversion methods for the extraction of key vegetation biophysical parameters using Terra and Aqua MODIS reflectance data

Rasmus Houborg*, Henrik Soegaard, Eva Boegh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

292 Scopus citations


Accurate estimates of vegetation biophysical variables are valuable as input to models describing the exchange of carbon dioxide and energy between the land surface and the atmosphere and important for a wide range of applications related to vegetation monitoring, weather prediction, and climate change. The present study explores the benefits of combining vegetation index and physically based approaches for the spatial and temporal mapping of green leaf area index (LAI), total chlorophyll content (TCab), and total vegetation water content (VWC). A numerical optimization method was employed for the inversion of a canopy reflectance model using Terra and Aqua MODIS multi-spectral, multi-temporal, and multi-angle reflectance observations to aid the determination of vegetation-specific physiological and structural canopy parameters. Land cover and site-specific inversion modeling was applied to a restricted number of pixels to build multiple species- and environmentally dependent formulations relating the three biophysical properties of interest to a number of selected simpler spectral vegetation indices (VI). While inversions generally are computationally slow, the coupling with the simple and computationally efficient VI approach makes the combined retrieval scheme for LAI, TCab, and VWC suitable for large-scale mapping operations. In order to facilitate application of the canopy reflectance model to heterogeneous forested areas, a simple correction scheme was elaborated, which was found to improve forest LAI predictions significantly and also provided more realistic values of leaf chlorophyll contents. The inversion scheme was designed to enable biophysical parameter retrievals for land cover classes characterized by contrasting canopy architectures, leaf inclination angles, and leaf biochemical constituents without utilizing calibration measurements. Preliminary LAI validation results for the Island of Zealand, Denmark (57°N, 12°E) provided confidence in the approach with root mean square (RMS) deviations between estimates and in-situ measurements of 0.62, 0.46, and 0.63 for barley, wheat, and deciduous forest sites, respectively. Despite the independence on site-specific in-situ measurements, the RMS deviations of the automated approach are in the same range as those established in other studies employing field-based empirical calibration. Being completely automated and image-based and independent on extensive and impractical surface measurements, the retrieval scheme has potential for operational use and can quite easily be implemented for other regions. More validation studies are needed to evaluate the usefulness and limitations of the approach for other environments and species compositions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-58
Number of pages20
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 15 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Canopy reflectance
  • Chlorophyll content
  • EVI
  • GI
  • Inverse modeling
  • Leaf area index
  • NDVI
  • NDWI
  • Satellite
  • Spectral reflectances
  • Vegetation water content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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