NASA Watches Global Photosynthesis from Space


This NASA video celebrates big data - global data, as a matter of fact - and how space agency scientists have radically improved the way its satellites collect and measure fluorescence from Earth's land plants, all the way down to a cellular level. Orbiting high above the Earth, onboard satellite sensors detect the plant fluorescence emitted during photosynthesis; computers then analyze and turn the data into global heat maps. This video shows that by collecting vastly larger amounts of data the space agency can produce much more detailed maps than ever before. The new maps, produced by Joanna Joiner and her colleagues at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, provide a 16-fold increase in spatial resolution and a 3-fold increase in temporal resolution over the first proof-of-concept maps released in 2011. Improved global measurements could have implications for farmers interested in early indications of crop stress, and ecologists looking to better understand global vegetation and carbon cycle processes. And on just a visual level, they're glorious. "For the first time, we are able to globally map changes in fluorescence over the course of a single month," Joiner said. "This lets us use fluorescence to observe, for example, variation in the length of the growing season."

Could this improve global farming methods?

Images: Screengrabs, NASA