If satellites can see plants glow, why oh why can’t I?

One factor that’s not often discussed in the fight against the greed-funded climate denial campaign is photosynthesis. Well, I should qualify. Some deniers never shut up about photosynthesis, but they don’t really address the ways in which photosynthesis really matters to us with regard to climate change. Among its other roles, it can also be a tool for managing our impact on the planet’s climate system. Given enough water, plants are really good at pulling in CO2 and binding it in cellulose. If we were to really set ourselves to it, the machinery of industrialized agriculture could be put to work harvesting and sequestering CO2.

Even so, the much larger amount of photosynthesis in the natural world is more important, both as a CO2 sink, and as a potential source. This is just one reason why being able to accurately estimate the total photosynthetic activity of the planet helps us keep an eye on how the foundation for our existence is doing. I knew that scientists were using satellites to estimate photosynthetic activity, but what I didn’t know is that they’ve been doing it by measuring the glow given off by the process of photosynthesis:

To measure the amount of carbon taken up by plants through photosynthesis, known as gross primary productivity (GPP), scientists have increasingly been measuring the energy glow of plants, called solar-induced fluorescence (SIF). This light that is emitted through the leaf is found at the high end of the light spectrum. While scientists have used this data for specific biomes, or distinct biological communities like a forest or a desert, this study is the first to look at the relationship between ground-based GPP and satellite-observed SIF in different areas across the globe — from grasslands to mixed forests and even areas with sparse vegetation.

Researchers collected the SIF data for plants in eight major biomes, or ecosystem types, from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite and found that it didn’t matter where the plants were, that just like earlier studies in single areas, where there was more SIF, the plants took up more carbon from photosynthesis, and vice versa. Xiao’s research establishes this universal relationship across eight major ecosystem types and shows that SIF can indeed serve as a proxy for more time-intensive calculations.

“This is a big step towards being able to solely rely on satellite measurements,” said Xiao. “Because it is a very simple model it could help reduce uncertainty in the data, lower computational costs and help better project climate change.”

You can read the rest and link to the primary article at Sciencedaily.


If you found this post useful or enjoyable, please share it, and please consider becoming a patron over at my Patreon page. Even as little as one dollar per month adds up to make a difference, and if you feel you can afford more than that, you can get access to all sorts of other content and perks! Your patronage allows me to put more of my time and energy into making this blog a useful resource. Thanks for reading!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *