A new instrument will be launched to measure the temperature of plants on Earth to help monitor threats such as drought conditions, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has said.
The new instrument, called the ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS), is scheduled to be launched on June 29 and installed on the International Space Station, and it will measure the changing temperatures of plants on Earth’s surface, NASA said.
Over the next year, the instrument will use the space station’s unique low Earth orbit to collect data over multiple areas of land at different times of the day, reports BSS.
It will produce detailed images of the same areas which are as small as 40 by 70 meters, about the size of a small farm, every three to five days.
ECOSTRESS data will provide insight into plants’ health and water intake and signs of mounting water stress — the beginning of a drought, allowing farmers and others to develop a solution and plan accordingly.
Scientists have previously experimented with the use of electric leaf sensors to monitor a plant’s water intake.
“When a plant is so stressed that it turns brown, it’s often too late for it to recover,” Simon Hook, ECOSTRESS principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said in a press release.
“But measuring the temperature of the plant lets you see that a plant is stressed before it reaches that point,” Hook said.
These temperature measurements are also considered an early indicator of potential agricultural droughts and give the agricultural community a chance to prepare and/or respond accordingly.
Also, ECOSTRESS data will be valuable for other studies that require temperature information, such as detecting and characterizing volcanoes, wildfires and heat waves, said NASA.