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Estimating soil respiration in a subalpine landscape using point, terrain, climate and greenness data

November 30, 2018

Landscape carbon (C) flux estimates are necessary for assessing the ability of terrestrial ecosystems to buffer further increases in anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Advances in remote sensing have allowed for coarse-scale estimates of gross primary productivity (GPP) (e.g., MODIS 17), yet efforts to assess spatial patterns in respiration lag behind those of GPP. Here, we demonstrate a method to predict growing season soil respiration at a regional scale in a forested ecosystem. We related field measurements (n=144) of growing season soil respiration across subalpine forests in the Southern Rocky Mountains ecoregion to a suite of biophysical predictors with a Random Forest model (30 m pixel size). We found that Landsat Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI), growing season AI, temperature, precipitation, elevation, and slope aspect explained spatiotemporal variability in soil respiration. Our model had a psuedo-r2 of 0.45 and root mean squared error (RMSE) of roughly one-quarter of the mean value of respiration. Predicted growing season soil respiration across the region was remarkably consistent across 2004, 2005 and 2006 (150-d averages of 542.8, 544.3, and 536.5 g C m-2, respectively). Yet, we observed substantial variability in spatial patterns of soil respiration predictions that varied between years, suggesting that our method is sensitive to changes in respiration drivers. We compared our estimates to MODIS GPP and nocturnal net ecosystem exchange (NEE) derived from eddy covariance towers as a proxy for ecosystem respiration. Averaged across the predictive region, mean predicted growing season soil respiration was 73% of MODIS GPP, while predicted soil respiration was generally within 20% of nocturnal NEE from eddy covariance towers. This study demonstrated that geospatial and remotely-sensed datasets can be used in a statistical modeling framework to estimate soil respiration at landscape scales.