Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Mapping photosynthesis from space

  • Written by  Olivia Edward
  • Published in Mapping
Mapping photosynthesis from space NASA
01 Sep
2013
A team of NASA scientists has used satellite data to create the most detailed global maps of plant photosynthesis ever produced

During photosynthesis, plants re-emit some of the light they absorb. This faint fluorescence is invisible to the naked eye but detectable by satellites. A team led by Joanna Joiner of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, used new techniques to detangle this weak signal from data collected by the Global Ozone Monitoring Instrument 2 on Metop-A, a European meteorological satellite. The scientists took advantage of the fact that the fluorescence has its own unique spectral signature, akin to a fingerprint, allowing them to tease it out from the rest of the light collected by the satellite.

Previous observations of photosynthetic fluorescence relied on averaging data over areas of 200 square kilometres every month; the new maps average the data over areas of just 50 square kilometres about every ten days. The improved measurements could be used by farmers to spot early indications of crop stress and by ecologists trying to better understand global vegetation and carbon-cycle processes.

‘For the first time, we’re able to globally map changes in fluorescence over the course of a single month,’ Joiner said. ‘This lets us use fluorescence to observe, for example, variation in the length of the growing season.’

The researchers have already observed plants beginning to shut down in the autumn before their leaves began to change colour and clearly detected early plant growth during last year’s warm spring in the USA.

This story was published in the September 2013 edition of Geographical Magazine

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Water

The discovery a long ‘tongue’ of ice beneath a glacial…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig explains two cartograms which demonstrate the global water…

Places

Get on your bike with this collection of stories to…

Water

The Brown Bank a haven for marine life in the…

Forests

The first payment under the Redd+ scheme to conserve tropical…

Places

In the first of a series on geopolitical curiosities and…

Cities

A socioecological model is predicting the areas of major US…

Mapping

Following the collapse of the upstream tailings dam in Brumadinho,…

Mapping

The domestication of animals for food, secondary products, labour and…

Cities

Strap in for a newer, greener experience in virtual city…

Water

A major investment in data collection along the Nile could…

Forests

Several factors are contributing to extreme deforestation in Haiti, with…

Cities

Illegal wells are depleting groundwater basins beneath Tehran causing it…

Mapping

Mapping the trade war between the US and China and…

Mapping

Check out this superb selection of mapping books - ideal…

Water

Glacial melt is increasing  land instability in mountainous regions, with huge tsunamis…

Mapping

A large-scale terrain mapping project makes Antarctica the best-mapped continent…

Water

New research reveals that microplastics can survive in mosquitos from…

Cities

New research measures the ability of major cities to re-use…