A comparison of gap-filling algorithms for eddy covariance fluxes and their drivers

Atbin Mahabbati, Jason Beringer, Matthias Leopold, Ian McHugh, James Cleverly, Peter Isaac, Azizallah Izady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The errors and uncertainties associated with gap-filling algorithms of water, carbon, and energy fluxes data have always been one of the main challenges of the global network of microclimatological tower sites that use the eddy covariance (EC) technique. To address these concerns and find more efficient gap-filling algorithms, we reviewed eight algorithms to estimate missing values of environmental drivers and nine algorithms for the three major fluxes typically found in EC time series. We then examined the algorithms' performance for different gap-filling scenarios utilising the data from five EC towers during 2013. This research's objectives were (a) to evaluate the impact of the gap lengths on the performance of each algorithm and (b) to compare the performance of traditional and new gap-filling techniques for the EC data, for fluxes, and separately for their corresponding meteorological drivers. The algorithms' performance was evaluated by generating nine gap windows with different lengths, ranging from a day to 365 d. In each scenario, a gap period was chosen randomly, and the data were removed from the dataset accordingly. After running each scenario, a variety of statistical metrics were used to evaluate the algorithms' performance. The algorithms showed different levels of sensitivity to the gap lengths; the Prophet Forecast Model (FBP) revealed the most sensitivity, whilst the performance of artificial neural networks (ANNs), for instance, did not vary as much by changing the gap length. The algorithms' performance generally decreased with increasing the gap length, yet the differences were not significant for windows smaller than 30 d. No significant differences between the algorithms were recognised for the meteorological and environmental drivers. However, the linear algorithms showed slight superiority over those of machine learning (ML), except the random forest (RF) algorithm estimating the ground heat flux (root mean square errors – RMSEs – of 28.91 and 33.92 for RF and classic linear regression – CLR, respectively). However, for the major fluxes, ML algorithms and the MDS showed superiority over the other algorithms. Even though ANNs, random forest (RF), and eXtreme Gradient Boost (XGB) showed comparable performance in gap-filling of the major fluxes, RF provided more consistent results with slightly less bias against the other ML algorithms. The results indicated no single algorithm that outperforms in all situations, but the RF is a potential alternative for the MDS and ANNs as regards flux gap-filling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-140
Number of pages18
JournalGeoscientific Instrumentation, Methods and Data Systems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2021


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