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MERIS monitoring tracks planetary photosynthesis levels

Daily multispectral observations from Envisat's MERIS sensor are being combined with a sophisticated processing algorithm and powerful Grid computing to reveal global photosynthesis activity on land. This permits researchers to trace the state of health of terrestrial plant cover, identifying areas under stress and assessing damage from drought or fires.

An algorithm developed by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (EC-JRC) in Ispra, Italy is the basis for global monthly photosynthesis maps derived from MERIS imagery. Their production represents a demanding data-processing task only made possible on a routine basis through the Earth Science Grid-On-Demand service available from ESRIN, the European Centre for Earth Observation, in Frascati. Maps of anomalies in photosynthesis levels over European countries have then been produced by scientists at the Institute for Environment and Sustainability of EC-JRC, based on observations gathered from 1998 to 2002.

Grid-processed results shown here indicate a decrease in vegetation activity against the average for Spain and Portugal, due to unusually cold and dry conditions at the beginning of the year, leading to plant stress. In the past the effects of the 2003 European drought were detected in a similar way, but in the absence of any long-term continental-scale perspective on vegetation growth.

Forget fossil fuels and nuclear plants: on a global scale solar power is the dominant source of energy. Across land and sea, our world's plant life uses the process called photosynthesis to convert incoming sunlight into chemical energy, along the way producing all the oxygen we breathe.

The fraction of incoming solar radiation useful for photosynthesis that is actually absorbed by vegetation ?a value known as the Fraction of Absorbed Photosynthetically Active Radiation (FAPAR) ?is well-recognised as an indicator of its condition and an influence on its capacity for growth, or 'productiv
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Source:European Space Agency


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