Green Light Plant Flight

It’s a bird, it’s a plane . . . it’s a – scientist in a helicopter!?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Living beings, like plants, reflect light in unique spiral patterns into the environment. Non-living things — like buildings and bridges – not so much! Technology exists that can detect this reflected light. But it’s only been used at static and very close quarters. Can we take this technique to a HIGHER level?

Enter Lucas Patty from the University of Bern and colleagues. They strapped a device that detects reflected light from living things to a helicopter – and off they flew! Light measurements were taken over the Alpine forests of Switzerland. Sometimes from over five-thousand feet in the air!

Could they tell pavement from bushes? Yes! They could pick out forests and grasses from urban areas and roads. And even detect algae in lakes!

These new advances could help us monitor deforestation quickly, on the fly, from above. Or help spot plant disease – in the forest AND the trees!

Keen eyes for green isles! Sign me up! 

Patty, C.L., Kuhn, J.G., Lambrev, P. H., et al. Biosignatures of the Earth I. Airborne spectropolarimetric detection of photosynthetic life. Astronomy & Astrophysics no. 40845. (2021).

Photo Credit: Craig Burrows