Drought impacts on terrestrial primary production underestimated by satellite monitoring

Stocker, Benjamin D.; Zscheischler, Jakob; Keenan, Trevor F.; Prentice, I. Colin; Seneviratne, Sonia I.; Peñuelas, Josep (2019). Drought impacts on terrestrial primary production underestimated by satellite monitoring. Nature geoscience, 12(4), pp. 264-270. Springer Nature 10.1038/s41561-019-0318-6

[img] Text
s41561-019-0318-6.pdf - Published Version
Restricted to registered users only
Available under License Publisher holds Copyright.

Download (4MB) | Request a copy

Satellite retrievals of information about the Earth’s surface are widely used to monitor global terrestrial photosynthesis and primary production and to examine the ecological impacts of droughts. Methods for estimating photosynthesis from space commonly combine information on vegetation greenness, incoming radiation, temperature and atmospheric demand for water (vapour-pressure deficit), but do not account for the direct effects of low soil moisture. They instead rely on vapour-pressure deficit as a proxy for dryness, despite widespread evidence that soil moisture deficits have a direct impact on vegetation, independent of vapour-pressure deficit. Here, we use a globally distributed measurement network to assess the effect of soil moisture on photosynthesis, and identify a common bias in an ensemble of satellite-based estimates of photosynthesis that is governed by the magnitude of soil moisture effects on photosynthetic light-use efficiency. We develop methods to account for the influence of soil moisture and estimate that soil moisture effects reduce global annual photosynthesis by ~15%, increase interannual variability by more than 100% across 25% of the global vegetated land surface, and amplify the impacts of extreme events on primary production. These results demonstrate the importance of soil moisture effects for monitoring carbon-cycle variability and drought impacts on vegetation productivity from space.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics

UniBE Contributor:

Zscheischler, Jakob


500 Science > 530 Physics




Springer Nature


[4] Swiss National Science Foundation


[1295] New metrics for constraining multiple drivers of hazard and compound hazards Official URL




Jakob Zscheischler

Date Deposited:

25 Feb 2020 14:33

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:36

Publisher DOI:






Actions (login required)

Edit item Edit item
Provide Feedback