Leaf nitrogen content indirectly estimated by leaf traits derived from the PROSPECT model

Zhihui Wang*, Andrew K. Skidmore, Roshanak Darvishzadeh, Uta Heiden, Marco Heurich, Tiejun Wang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


Leaf nitrogen content has so far been quantified through empirical techniques using hyperspectral remote sensing. However, it remains a challenge to estimate the nitrogen content in fresh leaves through inversion of physically based models. Leaf nitrogen has been found to correlate with leaf traits (e.g., leaf chlorophyll, dry matter, and water) well through links to the photosynthetic process, which provides potential to estimate nitrogen indirectly. We therefore set out to estimate leaf nitrogen content by using its links to leaf traits that could be retrieved from a physically based model (PROSPECT) inversion. Leaf optical (directional-hemispherical reflectance and transmittance between 350 and 2500 nm) and leaf biochemical (nitrogen, chlorophyll, dry matter, and water) properties were measured. Correlation analysis showed that the area-based nitrogen correlations with leaf traits were higher than mass-based correlations. Hence, simple and multiple linear regression models were established for area-based nitrogen using three leaf traits (leaf chlorophyll content, leaf mass per area, and equivalent water thickness). In addition, the traits were retrieved by the inversion of PROSPECT using an iterative optimization algorithm. The established empirical models and the leaf traits retrieved from PROSPECT were used to estimate leaf nitrogen content. A simple linear regression model using only retrieved equivalent water thickness as a predictor produced the most accurate estimation of nitrogen (R2 = 0.58, normalized RMSE = 0.11). The combination of empirical and physically based models provides a moderately accurate estimation of leaf nitrogen content, which can be transferred to other datasets in a robust and upscalable manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3172-3182
Number of pages11
JournalIEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Hyperspectral remote sensing
  • leaf nitrogen
  • leaf traits
  • PROSPECT model


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