Uncertainty in eddy covariance measurements and its application to physiological models

D. Y. Hollinger, A. D. Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

432 Scopus citations


Flux data are noisy, and this uncertainty is largely due to random measurement error. Knowledge of uncertainty is essential for the statistical evaluation of modeled and measured fluxes, for comparison of parameters derived by fitting models to measured fluxes and in formal data-assimilation efforts. We used the difference between simultaneous measurements from two towers located less than 1 km apart to quantify the distributional characteristics of the measurement error in fluxes of carbon dioxide (CO2) and sensible and latent heat (H and LE, respectively). Flux measurement error more closely follows a double exponential than a normal distribution. The CO2 flux uncertainty is negatively correlated with mean wind speed, whereas uncertainty in H and LE is positively correlated with net radiation flux. Measurements from a single tower made 24 h apart under similar environmental conditions can also be used to characterize flux uncertainty. Uncertainty calculated by this method is somewhat higher than that derived from the two-tower approach. We demonstrate the use of flux uncertainty in maximum likelihood parameter estimates for simple physiological models of daytime net carbon exchange. We show that inferred model parameters are highly correlated, and that hypothesis testing is therefore possible only when the joint distribution of the model parameters is taken into account.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)873-885
Number of pages13
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • AmeriFlux
  • Howland
  • Monte Carlo

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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