Progress and challenges in remotely sensed terrestrial carbon fluxes

Tao Wang, Yao Zhang, Chao Yue, Yilong Wang, Xiaoyi Wang, Guanting Lyu, Jianjun Wei, Hui Yang, Shilong Piao

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Accurate evaluation of terrestrial carbon balance is essential for designing climate change mitigation policies, and capabilities of remote sensing techniques in monitoring carbon fluxes are widely recognized for their great contributions to regional and global carbon budget accounting. In this review, we synthesized satellite-based data and methodologies to estimate the main flux components of terrestrial carbon balance and their uncertainties over the past two decades. The global gross primary production (GPP) during the period 2001–2022 is 134 ± 14 PgC yr−1, and nearly half of them occurs in tropical forest regions such as South America and Africa. Less than 2% of global GPP is converted into a net carbon sink of 2.28 ± 1.12 PgC yr−1 using satellite-based atmospheric inversion during 2015–2020, and this sink is comparable to the stock change-based estimate (2.49 PgC yr−1) but twice as large as model-based estimate (1.08 ± 0.78 PgC yr−1). By decomposing satellite-derived net carbon balance into different terms including satellite-derived carbon emissions from land-use change and wildfires (3.55 PgC yr−1), we inferred that ~ 43% of global GPP would be respired through soil microbes (57.1 PgC yr−1), but which is higher than the previous bottom-up estimate (39–46 PgC yr−1). We then propose that an accurate remote sensing of terrestrial carbon balance requires to enhance representations of photosynthetic responses to rising CO2 and disturbances, develop satellite-constrained belowground carbon dynamics and separate natural fluxes from anthropogenic CO2 emissions, by integrating multi-source satellite sensors in orbit, revolutionized remote sensing capabilities with focused field campaigns in data-scarce regions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGeo-Spatial Information Science
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • disturbances
  • gross primary productivity
  • net biome production
  • Satellite observations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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