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How Does Your Garden Glow?

Date: 05/05/2014
Category: Mission News & Science
By: Andy Shaner

Science is full of serendipity -- moments when discoveries happen by chance or accident while researchers are looking for something else. For example, penicillin was identified when a blue-green mold grew on a Petri dish that had been left open by mistake.

Now, satellite instruments have given climate researchers at NASA and other research institutions an unexpected global view from space of a nearly invisible fluorescent glow that sheds new light on the productivity of vegetation on land. Previously, global views of this glow from chlorophyll were only possible over Earth's ocean, using NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on NASA's Terra and Aqua spacecraft.

When the Japanese Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT), known as "IBUKI" in Japan, launched into orbit in 2009, its primary mission was to measure levels of carbon dioxide and methane, two major heat-trapping greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere. However, NASA researchers, in collaboration with Japanese and other international colleagues, found another treasure hidden in the data: fluorescence from chlorophyll contained within plants. Although scientists have measured fluorescence in laboratory settings and ground-based field experiments for decades, these new satellite data now provide the ability to monitor what is known as solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence on a global scale, opening up a world of potential new applications for studying vegetation on land.

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