NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is developing a space-based instrument for detecting transpiration within plants so that the flora can effectively use water. ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment (ECOSTRESS) is the name of the device that will be docked on the space station for monitoring the water loss through nano-pores occurring within leaves.
As water evaporates from the surface of the soil, it affects the mounted plant. Here ECOSTRESS will come as a handy tool in gauging the amount of evaporation and transpiration, together called as evapotranspiration.
Like humans, who tend to collapse in case they do not receive enough water especially after workouts, similarly plants show signs of stress during dehydration. Scientists claim that by measuring evapotranspiration, they would be in position to gain insights regarding the amount of stress flora is undergoing and can take necessary action before the plants collapse too.
ECOSTRESS is based on thermometer
ECOSTRESS works on the principal of thermometer, which in this case is gigantic of course and is operating from the space. The machine is a high-resolution thermal infrared radiometer that records the intensity of heat emitting from the Earth’s surface along with the temperature of flora. High temperature of plants would indicate requirement is water, asserted Josh Fisher, a JPL research scientist and science lead for ECOSTRESS. The instrument would also help in gaining insights regarding global water and carbon cycling added Fisher.
Problems with conventional monitoring satellite instruments
Current satellite instruments for monitoring evapotranspiration have two main huddles firstly, lesser rate of time frequency with higher spatial resolution, which means a few measurements per month and secondly, greater rate of time frequency with coarser spatial resolution. Ideally, the most sought after parameters are higher resolution with greater frequency only then scientists, farmers and water managers would be able to regulate their tasks effectively.
Handy for water managers and farmers
ECOSTRESS comes as a boon by ranking high in both the parameters. It would deliver a spatial resolution of 125 feet by 185 feet in a periodic cycle of 4 days. By working along with other ecosystem data, the experts would be able to figure out the efficiency of plants in consuming water for processing carbon dioxide. An equally important factor would be to identify plants that are more resilient in droughts prone regions.
The instrument is expected to be completed by 2017 and launch somewhere around 2017 to 2019. This is not the first monitoring device. NASA has already employed a fleet of satellites for tracking Earth’s important signs from land, air and space to understand the reasons and gain insights as to how the planet is changing.
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory