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A New Way to Measure Photosynthesis

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Posted October 31, 2017

Weather-related stresses like the heat and drought affect plant growth around the globe, but understanding the impact on a regional or global scale is a challenge. Most estimates of plant productivity are based on satellite data examining greenness, but plants remain green even when heat has shut down photosynthesis for the day or longer.

The marked ecological gradients depicted by OCO-2’s high-resolution SIF measurements along a transect of temperate deciduous forests, crops, and urban area from Indiana to suburban Chicago, Illinois.

Thanks to new technology from NASA combined with research from the University of Minnesota, scientists have a new way to measure the plant canopy for productivity. This study was recently published in Science. Instead of greenness, the NASA satellite OCO-2 measures a process that occurs only during photosynthesis, called solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence (SIF). Plants take in more solar energy during photosynthesis than they need to grow, and they release a small portion of the excess energy back to the atmosphere in the form of fluorescent light. SIF has been measured before by satellite, but OCO-2 measurements are higher in resolution than any previous dataset.

Sun Ying of Cornell University, formerly a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory postdoctoral scholar and colleagues report on the first validation of OCO-2’s SIF measurements using ground and airborne observations of plant photosynthesis and growth. They found a close agreement between the satellite and measurements collected by Tim GriffisJohn Baker and the Biometeorology Group at the University of Minnesota, suggesting that OCO-2’s SIF capability will be a powerful tool for understanding the health of plants globally.

This new, better way to measure the plant canopy productivity will be useful for agricultural measurement, tracking droughts and better understanding vegetation’s role in our climate.

Source: University of Minnesota

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