Using Satellites to Precisely Measure Plant Health from Space


During photosynthesis, plants emit fluorescence - light invisible to the naked eye but detectable by satellites orbiting above Earth. NASA scientists have established a method to turn this satellite data into global maps of the subtle phenomenon in more detail than ever before. The new maps, produced at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, have a 16-fold increase in spatial resolution and a three-fold increase in temporal resolution over the first proof-of-concept maps released in 2011. The new maps were possible due to the development of a way to identify the very faint fluorescence signal collected by the Global Ozone Monitoring Instrument 2 (GOME-2) instrument on Metop-A, a European meteorological satellite. Fluorescence measurements like these are important because they can be used to develop improved vegetation models, and this will lead to better predictions of how plants will interact with the Earth's environment in a changing climate.