Science body teams up with NASA for ecology mission

New Zealand’s Centre for Space Science Technology (CSST) has partnered with NASA to measure the temperature of plants, to find out how they respond to stress.

NASA has delivered its ECOSTRESS instrument, which is roughly the size of a refrigerator, to the International Space Station, as part of a one-year mission.

It captures temperature measurements of the Earth’s surface and sends the data back down to Earth.

CSST’s principal scientist Dr Dave Kelbe said like humans, when a plant’s temperature deviated from the norm, it meant something was wrong.

“When plants get too hot, they close their pores and stop sweating and they also stop taking in carbon dioxide, so they stop growing.”

Researchers from University of Waikato, Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research, and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), will contribute to the project’s New Zealand-based research.

Each of the New Zealand partners manage ecological research sites throughout the country and will be contributing their own data to the project.

Dr Kelbe said New Zealand researchers played a key role in advancing the scientific understanding to how plants used water.

“By supporting this project with collaboration, the quality and precision of the data over New Zealand is elevated, if it’s linked with what we’re seeing on the ground, then we know we can trust the data with high confidence to make decisions.”

Dr Kelbe said the data could be used for designing smart irrigation technology and getting better estimates of carbon uptake, to help meet our net zero greenhouse gas emissions’ targets.

He said it would not only help farmers with productivity but our environment as well.