Variations in the influence of diffuse light on gross primary productivity in temperate ecosystems

Susan J. Cheng, Gil Bohrer, Allison L. Steiner, David Y. Hollinger, Andrew Suyker, Richard P. Phillips, Knute J. Nadelhoffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


The carbon storage potential of terrestrial ecosystems depends in part on how atmospheric conditions influence the type and amount of surface radiation available for photosynthesis. Diffuse light, resulting from interactions between incident solar radiation and atmospheric aerosols and clouds, has been postulated to increase carbon uptake in terrestrial ecosystems. However, the magnitude of the diffuse light effect is unclear because existing studies use different methods to derive above-canopy diffuse light conditions. We used site-based, above-canopy measurements of diffuse light and gross primary productivity (GPP) from 10 temperate ecosystems (including mixed conifer forests, deciduous broadleaf forests, and croplands) to quantify the GPP variation explained by diffuse photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) and to calculate increases in GPP as a function of diffuse light. Our analyses show that diffuse PAR explained up to 41% of variation in GPP in croplands and up to 17% in forests, independent of direct light levels. Carbon enhancement rates in response to diffuse PAR (calculated after accounting for vapor pressure deficit and air temperature) were also higher in croplands (0.011-0.050μmol CO2 per μmol photons of diffuse PAR) than in forests (0.003-0.018μmol CO2 per μmol photons of diffuse PAR). The amount of variation in GPP and carbon enhancement rate both differed with solar zenith angle and across sites for the same plant functional type. At crop sites, diffuse PAR had the strongest influence and the largest carbon enhancement rate during early mornings and late afternoons when zenith angles were large, with greater enhancement in the afternoons. In forests, diffuse PAR had the strongest influence at small zenith angles, but the largest carbon enhancement rate at large zenith angles, with a trend in ecosystem-specific responses. These results highlight the influence of zenith angle and the role of plant community composition in modifying diffuse light enhancement in terrestrial ecosystems, which will be important in scaling this effect from individual sites to the globe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-110
Number of pages13
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - Feb 5 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbon cycling
  • Diffuse PAR
  • Land-atmosphere interactions
  • Net ecosystem exchange

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


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