NASA Image Shows Plants 'Waking Up' in the Morning

Jan Wesner Childs

At a Glance

  • Plants have circadian rhythms, just like humans.
  • They come to life when the sun comes up.
  • An instrument aboard the International Space Station can measure plants’ temperature from space.
Plants are much like humans when it comes to their morning routine.
Recent NASA images captured from an instrument on the International Space Station show plants “waking up” and welcoming the sunlight.
Just like people, plants have circadian rhythms, which act as an internal clock to tell them when it’s day or night, according to a news release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They come to life in the morning, kicking into gear to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis, which allows plants to convert carbon dioxide and water into food. Plants also go through a process called evapotranspiration, which allows them to “sweat” excess water through pores on their leaves to cool down. NASA’s ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer, or ECOSTRESS, measures the temperature of plants and can see the evapotranspiration as it happens, and records the time of day plants become more active. The image above uses ECOSTRESS data to illustrate the phenomenon near the shores of Lake Superior on the border between the U.S. and Canada. The areas in red show plants waking up at around 7 a.m. local time. The green areas are at about 8 a.m. and the blue areas are at about 9 a.m. The space station’s unique orbit allows the ECOSTRESS radiometer to collect data over the same areas at different times of the day and give researchers new insight into how plants behave at morning and night, according to JPL. “ECOSTRESS’ ability to detect plant behavior in this way can be especially helpful to resource managers and farmers, who can use the data to determine how much water their crops need, which ones are most water-efficient and which ones aren’t getting enough water, even before they show visible signs of dehydration,” the agency said. “What’s more, the instrument can provide this data on a global scale over areas as small as a football field.” ECOSTRESS launched to the ISS in 2018 and is still gathering data. It’s primary mission is to look at how the Earth’s vegetation and soil responds to changes in water availability, how changes in water stress affect the global carbon cycle and how agricultural vulnerability could be reduced by monitoring water consumption and improved drought forecasts. The Weather Company‚Äôs primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.   This article appeared on the Weather.com website at https://weather.com/science/nature/news/2020-02-05-plants-waking-up-nasa-image-ecostress]]>

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