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Plant stress paints early picture of drought
Date:12/5/2012

e maps of plant stress, scientists start with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. Images are processed to distinguish between land surfaces covered by soil and surfaces covered with vegetation.

Narrowing their focus to vegetated areas, scientists set out to measure moisture availability. Plants cool themselves by sweating water extracted from the soil by their roots. When access to water is limited, plants lessen their consumption and reduce evapotranspiration from leaf surfaces. As a result, leaves heat up and produce an elevated leaf or canopy temperature, which can be detected by thermal sensors on NOAA's geostationary weather satellites. Hotter plants imply limited water in the soil.

"This is not a drought forecast. It's a map of what's going on right now," Anderson says. "Is there more or less water than usual?"

What is "usual" or normal, however, can depend on the season or even the year. Scientists currently define normal by calculating and mapping plant stress averaged over periods of 1-3 months, from the start of MODIS data collection in 2000 to present. The mean of these historic maps is considered normal. Compare a current map with the longer-term "normal" map, and scientists get a picture of the magnitude by which current conditions deviate from normal.

"What was normal back in 1920 is not what's normal now, so the more years we have under the belt the better we can define normal," Anderson says. "But this year is so far out of line with respect to previous years, it is unusual regardless of the period of record used as the baseline."


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Contact: Kathryn Hansen
kathryn.h.hansen@nasa.gov
301-286-1046
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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