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Can we measure terrestrial photosynthesis from space directly, using spectral reflectance and fluorescence?


John Grace, tel. + 131 44 650 5430, fax + 131 44 650 0478, e-mail:


Attempts to estimate photosynthetic rate or gross primary productivity from remotely sensed absorbed solar radiation depend on knowledge of the light use efficiency (LUE). Early models assumed LUE to be constant, but now most researchers try to adjust it for variations in temperature and moisture stress. However, more exact methods are now required. Hyperspectral remote sensing offers the possibility of sensing the changes in the xanthophyll cycle, which is closely coupled to photosynthesis. Several studies have shown that an index (the photochemical reflectance index) based on the reflectance at 531 nm is strongly correlated with the LUE over hours, days and months. A second hyperspectral approach relies on the remote detection of fluorescence, which is a directly related to the efficiency of photosynthesis. We discuss the state of the art of the two approaches. Both have been demonstrated to be effective, but we specify seven conditions required before the methods can become operational.