Using space technology to measure plant health

Green soy plants

Satellite technology can be harnessed to measure plant temperatures to reveal their water needs. This can help improve crop-irrigation efficiency and forecasts of how
different plants will respond to climate change.

The health of vegetation across the world can be tracked using satellite technology. This is achieved through the identification of a faint glow that
appears in satellite images, whereby plants convert carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere and sunlight into energy.

Obtaining information about the health and stress of vegetation across the world is essential to understanding the need for an increase in animal feed and the production of food as the global population rises.

The collation of satellite information surrounding plant health will enable us to improve our understanding of the way carbon moves between plants and the
atmosphere, and how carbon and water cycles are affected by photosynthesis.

Converting carbon dioxide and sunlight within the atmosphere into carbohydrates rich with energy through the process of photosynthesis is fundamental to Earth’s population on which we all depend.

The process of photosynthesis involves an immensely complex string of events whereby two different systems with the algae and plant cells work in sequence.
These systems, known as ‘solar power systems’ accumulate the energy from the sun’s radiation, turning it into chemical energy for be used as heat and during the photosynthesis process.

As is the same with humans, elevated temperatures in plants can be a sign of ill health. It is difficult to measure plant temperatures on a global scale unless through the use of satellite technology. Measuring the temperature of plants from space enables researchers and scientists to study how drought conditions affect plant heath, and to determine the amount of water plants require.

The process of transpiration whereby plants soak up water in the soil and release the water through pores found on the plant’s leaves cools the plant down. If the water levels that the plant has access to are low, the plant will close its pores in order to conserve water which in turn, causes the plant’s temperature to rise.

The pores on the plant’s leaves that release water to cool the plant down are also the same pores that absorb carbon dioxide from within the Earth’s atmosphere for the photosynthesis process, in order to generate sugar which, the plant will use as food. If water levels are continually inadequate, the plant will suffer from “water stress”, eventually causing it to overheat or starve, and die.

Satellite data allows researchers too observes these changes in plant temperatures, providing detailed insight into the health of the plant and its water use, which could lead to corrective procedures to tackle agricultural water imbalances.


1. ESA (2015), New satellites to measure plant health

2. NASA (2018), New NASA Mission to Detect Plant Water Use from Space