NASA Satellites Measure Photosynthesis From Space

Posted on July 25, 2013

NASA scientists have discovered a new way to use satellites to measure what's occurring inside Earth's land plants at a cellular level. Plants emit fluorescence during photosynthesis. This light is invisible to the naked eye, but detectable by satellites orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth. Abundant fluorescence indicates active photosynthesis and a well functioning plant, while low or no fluorescence can mean a plant is stressed or shutting down. Joanna Joiner of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and her colleagues created global maps of the fluorescence emissions.

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

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