What Photosynthesis Looks Like From Space

Scientists have utilized satellite imagery to quantify plant metabolism.

AsianScientist (Oct. 16, 2017) – University of Sydney and NASA researchers have developed a new technique to image plant photosynthesis using satellite-based remote-sensing, with potential applications in climate change monitoring. Their findings have been published in Science.

The uptake of carbon dioxide by leaves and its conversion to sugars by photosynthesis, referred to as gross primary production (GPP), is the fundamental basis of life on Earth and its quantification is vital for research on terrestrial carbon cycle dynamics.

To directly measure plant growth, a team of researchers led by Dr. Bradley Evans used the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO2) satellite to measure solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence, a by-product of photosynthesis in leaves.

Crucially, the study showed how these fluorescence measurements correlate with GPP observations on the ground from diverse locations, areas of vegetation, and over various timeframes. This observed link between fluorescence and plant carbon dioxide uptake opens up many potential applications of this technique, such as for climate change and ecosystem monitoring, biodiversity conservation, and land management.

“We’re really excited by our results, and how they are a step closer to a quantitative estimate of the photons of light resulting from photosynthesis. We also hope that our results will help others to better quantify carbon flows, so that we can understand more about Earth’s climate and ecosystem,” Evans said.

The article can be found at: Sun et al. (2017) OCO-2 Advances Photosynthesis Observation from Space via Solar-induced Chlorophyll Fluorescence.


Source: University of Sydney; Photo: Bradley Evans.
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