ECOSTRESS is a new NASA Earth science mission to study how effectively plants use water by measuring their temperature from space. ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) is set to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in summer 2018, and will be affixed to the outside of the International Space Station where it will make its temperature measurements.


[Josh Fisher] We're interested in our ability to sustain food production. We're interested in our ecosystem health, and that's all tied to water. How much water our plants, our crops need, we want to know, and as water resources become more uncertain, more variable, we need to really track that really precisely. We can't just guess anymore.

[Simon Hook] So, ECOSTRESS is going to measure the surface temperature and then we're going to use that surface temperature to be able to determine how much water the plants that we're looking at are using.

[Kerry Cawse-Nicolson] We'd like to show how we can use ECOSTRESS data to optimize agricultural water use.

[Hook] ECOSTRESS is an instrument that's going to go on the International Space Station. It stands for the Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station.

[Fisher] If focuses on how on how much water plants use all over the planet, and how much water plants need, and if there is stress, water stress or heat stress, that plants are facing.

[Hook] We can measure the surface temperature of the Earth within a few tenths of a degree, and then we can use that information to look at objects on the surface of the Earth. In this particular case, we're interested in looking at plants.

[Cawse-Nicolson] Plants, as they start to suffer from heat or water stress, they begin to heat up in a similar way to a human with a fever. We can pick up that stress before the plant is visibly affected. There's this window where water resource management and agricultural users can actually allocate more water before they die, before the damage is irreparable.

[Hook] The Space Station is going to fly over at different times to be able to look at how the stress is changing through the day, and allow us to characterize vegetation in ways that we've never been able to characterize it before.

The instrument itself is looking down at the surface of the Earth and uses a mirror that rotates to scan across the surface. This measurement's being made in micro seconds, but it's enough time for us to measure the energy that's coming off it, and then translate that energy into a temperature.

[Fisher] The temperature measurements from ECOSTRESS can detect volcanoes, we can detect urban heat from cities.

[Hook] So, although we're focused primarily on looking at plants and making sure that we can maximize the amount of food that we can get back for the water that we use, the mission can be used for many other purposes.

What hasn't been possible in the past is to make the measurements as frequently as we need to make them with sufficient detail, and it's that combination that is so important. And really, that's just a reflection of the improvements in technology.

[Fisher] Our ability to sustain livelihoods, food production, ecosystems, and the health of the planet through ECOSTRESS data is invaluable.

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