NASA’s New Space ‘Botanist’ Arrives at Launch Site

A new instrument that will provide a unique, space-based
measurement of how plants respond to changes in water
availability has arrived
at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in
Florida to begin final preparations for
launch to the
International Space Station this summer aboard a cargo
resupply
mission.

NASA’s ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on
Space Station (ECOSTRESS) left NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena,
California, on April 6 by ground transport and
arrived at Kennedy Space Center
on April 9.

A few days after it reaches the space station, ECOSTRESS
will
be robotically installed on the exterior of the station’s
Japanese
Experiment Module Exposed Facility Unit.

ECOSTRESS will give us new insights into plant health by
quantifying the temperature of plants from space as never
before, measuring regions as small as 230 feet (70 meters) on
a
side, or about the size of a small farm. It will do this by
estimating how
much water plants are releasing to cool
themselves (i.e., evapotranspiration —
the equivalent of
sweating in humans). This will tell us how much water
different plants use and need, and how they react to
environmental stresses
caused by water shortages. ECOSTRESS
will estimate how much water moves through
and out of plants
by tracking how the temperatures of plants change. The data
from its minimum one-year mission will be used by ecologists,
hydrologists,
agriculturalists, meteorologists and other
scientists.

“Most satellite measurements of plant surface temperature
are
made at a particular time of day, often in the mid-morning,
when plants are
not stressed,” said Simon Hook, the project’s
principal investigator at JPL.
“ECOSTRESS takes advantage of
the space station’s orbit to obtain measurements
at different
times of day, allowing us to see how plants respond to water
stress throughout the day.”

Until now, scientists addressing this question globally have
had to estimate how that same-time-of-day snapshot varies over
the course of a
day. ECOSTRESS promises to eliminate much of
this guesswork.

ECOSTRESS is expected to provide key insights into how
plants
link Earth’s global carbon and water cycles. ECOSTRESS data
will be used
in conjunction with other satellite and ground
measurements, such as those from
NASA’s Orbiting Carbon
Observatory-2 satellite. By doing this, scientists hope to
understand more clearly the total
amount of carbon dioxide
plants remove from the atmosphere during a typical day.
In
addition, they hope to better identify which areas on the
planet require
more or less water for the amount of carbon
dioxide they take up.

In practical terms, the year of
data gleaned from ECOSTRESS
will be useful for agricultural water managers. This
data
should improve our understanding of how certain regions are
affected by
drought and help agricultural and water management
communities better manage
water use for agriculture. The high
ground spatial resolution of ECOSTRESS data
will be useful for
research on the effects of drought on agriculture at the
field-scale.

JPL built and manages the ECOSTRESS mission for NASA’s Earth
Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate in
Washington. ECOSTRESS is
sponsored by NASA’s Earth System
Science Pathfinder program, managed by NASA’s
Langley Research
Center in Hampton, Virginia.

For more information on
ECOSTRESS, visit:

https://ecostress.jpl.nasa.gov/

News Media Contact

Alan Buis
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-0474
Alan.buis@jpl.nasa.gov

Written by Esprit Smith
JPL Media Relations

2018-073

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