Remote sensing of tropical ecosystems: Atmospheric correction and cloud masking matter Public Deposited

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  • Tropical rainforests are significant contributors to the global cycles of energy, water and carbon. As a result, monitoring of the vegetation status over regions such as Amazônia has been a long standing interest of Earth scientists trying to determine the effect of climate change and anthropogenic disturbance on the tropical ecosystems and its feedback on the Earth's climate. Satellite-based remote sensing is the only practical approach for observing the vegetation dynamics of regions like the Amazon over useful spatial and temporal scales, but recent years have seen much controversy over satellite-derived vegetation states in Amazônia, with studies predicting opposite feedbacks depending on data processing technique and interpretation. Recent results suggest that some of this uncertainty could stem from a lack of quality in atmospheric correction and cloud screening. In this paper, we assess these uncertainties by comparing the current standard surface reflectance products (MYD09, MYD09GA) and derived composites (MYD09A1, MCD43A4 and MYD13A2 — Vegetation Index) from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) onboard the Aqua satellite to results obtained from the Multi-Angle Implementation of Atmospheric Correction (MAIAC) algorithm. MAIAC uses a new cloud screening technique, and novel aerosol retrieval and atmospheric correction procedures which are based on time-series and spatial analyses. Our results show considerable improvements of MAIAC processed surface reflectance compared to MYD09/MYD13 with noise levels reduced by a factor of up to 10. Uncertainties in the current MODIS surface reflectance product were mainly due to residual cloud and aerosol contamination which affected the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI): During the wet season, with cloud cover ranging between 90% and 99%, conventionally processed NDVI was significantly depressed due to undetected clouds. A smaller reduction in NDVI due to increased aerosol levels was observed during the dry season, with an inverse dependence of NDVI on aerosol optical thickness (AOT). NDVI observations processed with MAIAC showed highly reproducible and stable inter-annual patterns with little or no dependence on cloud cover, and no significant dependence on AOT (p < 0.05). In addition to a better detection of cloudy pixels, MAIAC obtained about 20–80% more cloud free pixels, depending on season, a considerable amount for land analysis given the very high cloud cover (75–99%) observed at any given time in the area. We conclude that a new generation of atmospheric correction algorithms, such as MAIAC, can help to dramatically improve vegetation estimates over tropical rain forest, ultimately leading to reduced uncertainties in satellite-derived vegetation products globally.
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  • Hilker, T., Lyapustin, A. I., Tucker, C. J., Sellers, P. J., Hall, F. G., & Wang, Y. (2012). Remote sensing of tropical ecosystems: Atmospheric correction and cloud masking matter. Remote Sensing of Environment, 127, 370. doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2012.08.035
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