Improved quantification of cover crop biomass and ecosystem services through remote sensing-based model-data fusion

Lexuan Ye, Kaiyu Guan, Ziqi Qin, Sheng Wang, Wang Zhou, Bin Peng, Robert Grant, Jinyun Tang, Tongxi Hu, Zhenong Jin, Dan Schaefer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cover crops have long been seen as an effective management practice to increase soil organic carbon (SOC) and reduce nitrogen (N) leaching. However, there are large uncertainties in quantifying these ecosystem services using either observation (e.g. field measurement, remote sensing data) or process-based modeling. In this study, we developed and implemented a model-data fusion (MDF) framework to improve the quantification of cover crop benefits in SOC accrual and N retention in central Illinois by integrating process-based modeling and remotely-sensed observations. Specifically, we first constrained and validated the process-based agroecosystem model, ecosys, using observations of cover crop aboveground biomass derived from satellite-based spectral signals, which is highly consistent with field measurements. Then, we compared the simulated cover crop benefits in SOC accrual and N leaching reduction with and without the constraints of remotely-sensed cover crop aboveground biomass. When benchmarked with remote sensing-based observations, the constrained simulations all show significant improvements in quantifying cover crop aboveground biomass C compared with the unconstrained ones, with R 2 increasing from 0.60 to 0.87, and root mean square error (RMSE) and absolute bias decreasing by 64% and 97%, respectively. On all study sites, the constrained simulations of aboveground biomass C and N at termination are 29% and 35% lower than the unconstrained ones on average. Correspondingly, the averages of simulated SOC accrual and N retention net benefits are 31% and 23% lower than the unconstrained simulations, respectively. Our results show that the MDF framework with remotely-sensed biomass constraints effectively reduced the uncertainties in cover crop biomass simulations, which further constrained the quantification of cover crop-induced ecosystem services in increasing SOC and reducing N leaching.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number094018
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023


  • aboveground biomass
  • cover crop
  • ecosys
  • model-data fusion
  • nitrogen leaching
  • remote sensing
  • soil organic carbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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