Amazon plant growth detectable at last

Jun 05, 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: Space sex geckos at risk as Russia loses control of satellite

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Watching the planet breathe

Mar 02, 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 Labora ...

Eye exam for a satellite

Apr 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 ...

Recommended for you

Video: A dizzying view of the Earth from space

13 hours ago

We've got vertigo watching this video, but in a good way! This is a sped-up view of Earth from the International Space Station from the Cupola, a wraparound window that is usually used for cargo ship berthings ...

NEOWISE spots a comet that looked like an asteroid

13 hours ago

Comet C/2013 UQ4 (Catalina) has been observed by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft just one day after passing through its closest approach to the sun. The comet ...

What the UK Space Agency can teach Australia

13 hours ago

Australia has had an active civil space program since 1947 but has much to learn if it is to capture a bigger share of growing billion dollar global space industry. ...

Discover the "X-factor" of NASA's Webb telescope

14 hours ago

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray observatory have something in common: a huge test chamber used to simulate the hazards of space and the distant glow of starlight. Viewers can learn about ...

User comments : 0