Amazon plant growth detectable at last

June 5, 2013
Amazon plant growth detectable at last
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Until recently it was impossible to carry out large-scale measurements of photochemical activity in the tropical rainforest and therefore draw conclusions on the subject. A chance success – a measurement by a satellite over the Brazilian Amazon – represents a scientific breakthrough. The technology used shows the effects of drought, heat or cold on plants, which is very useful when analysing agricultural production or climatic conditions. University of Twente scientists and NASA researchers have published an article on the research in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

For many years now scientists have been using satellites in earth's orbit, but this is the first time that measurements of this particular kind have been successful. Christiaan van der Tol, a researcher at ITC (the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and ), is very excited about the discovery. "This is a fantastic stroke of luck on the part of Japan's GOSAT (Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite), which has been orbiting the earth since 2009. In fact it is not the only satellite orbiting there: there is heavy satellite traffic around the earth, both working and non-working satellites. "GOSAT is actually designed to measure in the atmosphere." But the satellite turned out to be sufficiently precise and sensitive to another very weak signal, the red-coloured light that indicates plant growth.

During photosynthesis, the process whereby a plant uses sunlight for growth, it radiates a tiny amount of red-coloured light. The satellite was able to distinguish this weak signal from the reflected sunlight. The red light, also known as fluorescence, enables plant biological activity to be observed from a great distance. The measurements showed, for example, that while the remains green during dry and sunny periods it grows less fast than in wet periods.

GOSAT, which was not designed to carry out measurements of this kind, picked up the plant growth signal, although the technology has been known for some time now. The ESA (European Space Agency) is investigating the possibility of a dedicated satellite.

Explore further: First-of-its-kind fluorescence map offers a new view of the world's land plants

Related Stories

Watching the planet breathe

March 2, 2012

Scientists have come up with an entirely new way to monitor the health of Earth’s plants from space. In work published in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) ...

Eye exam for a satellite

April 17, 2013

You don't just strap a satellite to a rocket, launch it, and voilà, it takes measurements. Beyond maneuvering into the right orbit, there are a series of check-out procedures to make sure the satellite performs in space ...

Recommended for you

At Saturn, one of these rings is not like the others

September 2, 2015

When the sun set on Saturn's rings in August 2009, scientists on NASA's Cassini mission were watching closely. It was the equinox—one of two times in the Saturnian year when the sun illuminates the planet's enormous ring ...

Prawn Nebula: Cosmic recycling

September 2, 2015

Dominating this image is part of the nebula Gum 56, illuminated by the hot bright young stars that were born within it. For millions of years stars have been created out of the gas in this nebula, material which is later ...

Comet Hitchhiker would take tour of small bodies

September 2, 2015

Catching a ride from one solar system body to another isn't easy. You have to figure out how to land your spacecraft safely and then get it on its way to the next destination. The landing part is especially tricky for asteroids ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.