Spectroscopy of canopy chemicals in humid tropical forests

Gregory P. Asner, Roberta E. Martin, David E. Knapp, Raul Tupayachi, Christopher Anderson, Loreli Carranza, Paola Martinez, Mona Houcheime, Felipe Sinca, Parker Weiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

163 Scopus citations


Remote sensing of canopy chemistry could greatly advance the study and monitoring of functional processes and biological diversity in humid tropical forests. Imaging spectroscopy has contributed to canopy chemical remote sensing, but efforts to develop general, globally-applicable approaches have been limited by sparse and inconsistent field and laboratory data, and lacking analytical methods. We analyzed leaf hemispherical reflectance and transmittance spectra, along with a 21-chemical portfolio, taken from 6136 fully sunlit humid tropical forest canopies, and developed an up-scaling method using a combination of canopy radiative transfer, chemometric and high-frequency noise modeling. By integrating these steps, we found that the accuracy and precision of multi-chemical remote sensing of tropical forest canopies varies by leaf constituent and wavelength range. Under conditions of varying canopy structure and spectral noise, photosynthetic pigments, water, nitrogen, cellulose, lignin, phenols and leaf mass per area (LMA) are accurately estimated using visible-to-shortwave infrared spectroscopy (VSWIR; 400-2500. nm). Phosphorus and base cations are retrieved with lower yet significant accuracy. We also find that leaf chemical properties are estimated far more consistently, and with much higher precision and accuracy, using the VSWIR range rather than the more common and limited visible to near-infrared range (400-1050. nm; VNIR). While VNIR spectroscopy proved accurate for predicting foliar LMA, photosynthetic pigments and water, VSWIR spectra provided accurate estimates for three times the number of canopy traits. These global results proved to be independent of site conditions, taxonomic composition and phylogenetic history, and thus they should be broadly applicable to multi-chemical mapping of humid tropical forest canopies. The approach developed and tested here paves the way for studies of canopy chemical properties in humid tropical forests using the next generation of airborne and space-based high-fidelity imaging spectrometers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3587-3598
Number of pages12
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 15 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Canopy chemistry
  • Carnegie Airborne Observatory
  • Chemometrics
  • Hyperspectral
  • Imaging spectroscopy
  • Partial least squares regression
  • Rain forest
  • Spectranomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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