Assessing change in the Earth's land surface albedo with moderate resolution satellite imagery
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Land surface albedo describes the proportion of incident solar radiant flux that is reflected from the Earth's surface and therefore is a crucial parameter in modeling and monitoring attempts to capture the current climate, hydrological, and biogeochemical cycles and predict future scenarios. Due to the temporal variability and spatial heterogeneity of land surface albedo, remote sensing offers the only realistic method of monitoring albedo on a global scale. While the distribution of bright, highly reflective surfaces (clouds, snow, deserts) govern the vast majority of the fluctuation, variations in the intrinsic surface albedo due to natural and human disturbances such as urban development, fire, pests, harvesting, grazing, flooding, and erosion, as well as the natural seasonal rhythm of vegetation phenology, play a significant role as well. The development of times series of global snow-free and cloud-free albedo from remotely sensed observations over the past decade and a half offers a unique opportunity to monitor and assess the impact of these alterations to the Earth's land surface. By utilizing multiple satellite records from the MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), the Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instruments, and developing innovative spectral conversion coefficients and temporal gap-filling strategies, it has been possible to utilize the strengths of the various sensors to improve the spatial and temporal coverage of global land surface albedo retrievals. The availability of these products is particularly important in tropical regions where cloud cover obscures the forest for significant periods. In the Amazon, field ecologists have noted that some areas of the forest ecosystem respond rapidly with foliage growth at the beginning of the dry season, when sunlight can finally penetrate fully to the surface and have suggested this phenomenon can continue until reductions in water availability (particularly in times of drought) impact the growth cycle. While it has been difficult to capture this variability from individual optical satellite sensors, the temporally gap-filled albedo products developed during this research are used in a case study to monitor the Amazon during the dry season and identify the extent of these regions of foliage growth.