Estimating crop primary productivity with Sentinel-2 and Landsat 8 using machine learning methods trained with radiative transfer simulations

Aleksandra Wolanin*, Gustau Camps-Valls, Luis Gómez-Chova, Gonzalo Mateo-García, C. van der Tol, Yongguang Zhang, Luis Guanter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

118 Citations (Scopus)
79 Downloads (Pure)


Satellite remote sensing has been widely used in the last decades for agricultural applications, both for assessing vegetation condition and for subsequent yield prediction. Existing remote sensing-based methods to estimate gross primary productivity (GPP), which is an important variable to indicate crop photosynthetic function and stress, typically rely on empirical or semi-empirical approaches, which tend to over-simplify photosynthetic mechanisms. In this work, we take advantage of all parallel developments in mechanistic photosynthesis modeling and satellite data availability for an advanced monitoring of crop productivity. In particular, we combine process-based modeling with the soil-canopy energy balance radiative transfer model (SCOPE) with Sentinel-2 and Landsat 8 optical remote sensing data and machine learning methods in order to estimate crop GPP. With this approach, we by-pass the need for an intermediate step to retrieve the set of vegetation biophysical parameters needed to accurately model photosynthesis, while still accounting for the complex processes of the original physically-based model. Several implementations of the machine learning models are tested and validated using simulated and flux tower-based GPP data. Our final neural network model is able to estimate GPP at the tested flux tower sites with r 2 of 0.92 and RMSE of 1.38 gC d −1 m −2 , which outperforms empirical models based on vegetation indices. The first test of applicability of this model to Landsat 8 data showed good results (r 2 of 0.82 and RMSE of 1.97 gC d −1 m −2 ), which suggests that our approach can be further applied to other sensors. Modeling and testing is restricted to C3 crops in this study, but can be extended to C4 crops by producing a new training dataset with SCOPE that accounts for the different photosynthetic pathways. Our model successfully estimates GPP across a variety of C3 crop types and environmental conditions even though it does not use any local information from the corresponding sites. This highlights its potential to map crop productivity from new satellite sensors at a global scale with the help of current Earth observation cloud computing platforms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-457
Number of pages17
JournalRemote sensing of environment
Early online date1 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


  • C3 crops
  • Gross primary productivity (GPP)
  • Hybrid approach
  • Landsat 8
  • Machine learning (ML)
  • Neural networks (NN)
  • Radiative transfer modeling (RTM)
  • Sentinel-2 (S2)
  • Soil-canopy-observation of photosynthesis and the energy balance (SCOPE)
  • 22/4 OA procedure


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