Accuracies of field CO2-H2O data from open-path eddy-covariance flux systems: Assessment based on atmospheric physics and biological environment

Xinhua Zhou, Tian Gao, Ning Zheng, Bai Yang, Yanlei Li, Fengyuan Yu, Tala Awada, Jiaojun Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ecosystem CO2-H2O data measured by infrared gas analyzers in open-path eddy-covariance (OPEC) systems have numerous applications, such as estimations of CO2 and H2O fluxes in the atmospheric boundary layer. To assess the applicability of the data for these estimations, data uncertainties from analyzer measurements are needed. The uncertainties are sourced from the analyzers in zero drift, gain drift, cross-sensitivity, and precision variability. These four uncertainty sources are individually specified for analyzer performance, but so far no methodology exists yet to combine these individual sources into a composite uncertainty for the specification of an overall accuracy, which is ultimately needed. Using the methodology for closed-path eddy-covariance systems, this overall accuracy for OPEC systems is determined from all individual uncertainties via an accuracy model and further formulated into CO2 and H2O accuracy equations. Based on atmospheric physics and the biological environment, for EC150 infrared CO2-H2O analyzers, these equations are used to evaluate CO2 accuracy (±1.22 mgCO2m-3, relatively ±0.19%) and H2O accuracy (±0.10gH2Om-3, relatively ±0.18% in saturated air at 35°C and 101.325kPa). Both accuracies are applied to conceptual models addressing their roles in uncertainty analyses for CO2 and H2O fluxes. For the high-frequency air temperature derived from H2O density along with sonic temperature and atmospheric pressure, the role of H2O accuracy in its uncertainty is similarly addressed. Among the four uncertainty sources, cross-sensitivity and precision variability are minor, although unavoidable, uncertainties, whereas zero drift and gain drift are major uncertainties but are minimizable via corresponding zero and span procedures during field maintenance. The accuracy equations provide rationales to assess and guide the procedures. For the atmospheric background CO2 concentration, CO2 zero and CO2 span procedures can narrow the CO2 accuracy range by 40%, from ±1.22 to ±0.72mgCO2m-3. In hot and humid weather, H2O gain drift potentially adds more to the H2O measurement uncertainty, which requires more attention. If H2O zero and H2O span procedures can be performed practically from 5 to 35°C, the H2O accuracy can be improved by at least 30%: From ±0.10 to ±0.07gH2Om-3. Under freezing conditions, the H2O span procedure is impractical but can be neglected because of its trivial contributions to the overall uncertainty. However, the zero procedure for H2O, along with CO2, is imperative as an operational and efficient option under these conditions to minimize H2O measurement uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-357
Number of pages23
JournalGeoscientific Instrumentation, Methods and Data Systems
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 21 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Geology
  • Atmospheric Science


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