Skip to content

A recent study highlighted by NASA and led by a team of scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California now enables the forecasting of a flash drought up to three months beforehand, a discovery which could aid future mitigation efforts.

A team of researchers reviewed years of data of flash droughts that struck the U.S. between May and July from 2015 to 2020, and correlated that with data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2).

The OCO-2 can detect a faint glow coming from crops across the U.S., which is generated by plants during photosynthesis. As the JPL site explains it, “when a plant absorbs sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into food, its chlorophyll will ‘leak’ some unused photons. This faint glow is called solar-induced fluorescence, or SIF. The stronger the fluorescence, the more carbon dioxide a plant is taking from the atmosphere to power its growth.”

This is normally invisible to the human eye, but if you were to take a blue flashlight and wear a pair of red glasses, and shine the light on a plant in a dark room, you would actually be able to see the red glow being emitted from the plant’s photosynthetic process, as can be seen in this video.

A flash drought occurs typically when there’s a combination of a lower-than-normal precipitation and higher temperatures.

The Conversation news organization explains, “Water constantly cycles between land and the atmosphere. Under normal conditions, moisture from rainfall or snowfall accumulates in the soil during wet seasons. Plants draw water up through their roots and release water vapor into the air through their leaves, a process called transpiration. Some moisture also evaporates directly from the soil into the air.

This post is for paying subscribers only


Already have an account? Sign In