The Photosynthetic Trade-off Between Direct and Diffuse Light, the Problem with Diffuse Fraction and a Proposed Solution.

Friday, 19 December 2014
Alexander (Zan) Stine, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, United States, Abigail L. S. Swann, University of Washington, Atmospheric Sciences, Seattle, WA, United States and Peter J Huybers, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, United States
Increases in atmospheric scatterers change the light environment at the surface both by decreasing total solar illumination and by converting direct radiation to diffuse radiation. In general, diffuse light is more efficient at driving photosynthesis than direct light, leading to disagreements in the net effect of changes in scattering on terrestrial photosynthesis, particularly in the context of large explosive volcanic eruptions. Standard analytical approaches for treating the trade-off between direct and diffuse radiation compare the changes in light against the fraction of light which is diffuse. Here we show that use of diffuse fraction as the independent variable in light trade-off calculations leads to results that are generally biased because the dependent variable (be it direct, diffuse or total radiation) functionally covaries with the independent variable, irrespective of the physical relationship between direct and diffuse radiation. This bias appears to dominate the results of published calculations. We develop a new method for quantifying the trade-off between direct and diffuse radiation on photosynthesis that is not subject to this artifact and demonstrate its use at four Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) sites.