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Can photosynthesis be measured over large areas? Scientists find a way

Date:
April 30, 2015
Source:
Marine Biological Laboratory
Summary:
By mounting cameras and spectral sensors over a forest canopy in central Massachusetts, scientists have developed an innovative system to measure plant photosynthesis over large areas, such as acres of crops or trees, using information on solar-induced fluorescence in the leaves. The system can monitor plant growth and several other ecosystem changes.
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Cameras and sensors installed on a tower in a Massachusetts forest continuously collect environmental data, including on photosynthetically active radiation.
Credit: Jim Tang

By mounting cameras and spectral sensors over a forest canopy in central Massachusetts, scientists have developed an innovative system to measure plant photosynthesis over large areas, such as acres of crops or trees, using information on solar-induced fluorescence in the leaves. The system, which can monitor plant growth and several other ecosystem changes, was developed by a team led by Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and Brown University scientists. It is described in a recent paper in Geophysical Research Letters.

"Plant photosynthesis is a fundamental process that drives all ecosystem functions. Despite established knowledge on how to measure and model photosynthesis on the leaf scale, measuring photosynthesis on the canopy scale has been challenging," says Jim Tang, associate scientist in the MBL Ecosystems Center. By analyzing the spectral signals captured by a special sensor they installed at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass., "We found fluorescence data well correlated with photosynthesis that was measured by another independent method. This is the first time that satellite-based fluorescence is validated by ground measurements," Tang says.

"This work has profound applications, as we can easily install this system into a drone, airplane, or satellite to detect plant photosynthesis on a large scale to assess ecosystem health," says lead author Xi Yang, a postdoctoral associate at Brown University. "We may also apply this to agriculture for predicting crop yield, drought condition, or insect outbreak."

Chlorophyll fluorescence is a byproduct of photosynthesis: under the sunlight, a small portion of solar energy (< 1 percent) captured by chlorophyll is emitted as fluorescence. However, recording the signal from that fluorescence is extremely difficult because it is obscured by the much higher intensity of solar radiation. The group discovered a few wavelengths of light that allow measuring the specific fluorescence signal from photosynthesis. The team's fluorescence measurement system can record radiation at high resolution with a frequency of 5 minutes, thus automating detection of photosynthesis from the canopy.


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Materials provided by Marine Biological Laboratory. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Xi Yang, Jianwu Tang, John F. Mustard, Jung-Eun Lee, Micol Rossini, Joanna Joiner, J. William Munger, Ari Kornfeld, Andrew D. Richardson. Solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence that correlates with canopy photosynthesis on diurnal and seasonal scales in a temperate deciduous forest. Geophysical Research Letters, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/2015GL063201

Cite This Page:

Marine Biological Laboratory. "Can photosynthesis be measured over large areas? Scientists find a way." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 April 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150430091827.htm>.
Marine Biological Laboratory. (2015, April 30). Can photosynthesis be measured over large areas? Scientists find a way. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150430091827.htm
Marine Biological Laboratory. "Can photosynthesis be measured over large areas? Scientists find a way." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150430091827.htm (accessed May 23, 2017).

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