Midwestern farmers can congratulate themselves today. Based on an entirely new data-collection method, NASA has declared the U.S. Corn Belt one of the most productive regions on Earth. This is not a title to be taken lightly.

When crops grow, their chlorophyll absorbs light as a form of energy. But plants also emit a small amount of “fluorescent glow” as well, even though we can’t see it.

Researcher Joanna Joiner of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center realized that existing satellite data had already unknowingly recorded that faint glow, reports Modern Farmer.

Luis Guanter of the Freie Universität Berlin took Joiner’s research one step further, specifically applying her theory to agriculture.

Now, scientists can literally see the glow of activity in agricultural areas around the world. After studying the data, it became clear that previous data understimated the production levels of the Midwest.

Joiner’s co-author, Christian Frankenberg of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a press release:

“The paper shows that fluorescence is a much better proxy for agricultural productivity than anything we’ve had before. This can go a long way regarding monitoring—and maybe even predicting—regional crop yields.”

What’s more, this data could help scientists understand and plan for global warming.

Joiner tells NASA:

“Corn plants are very productive in terms of assimilating carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This needs to be accounted for going forward in trying to predict how much of the atmospheric carbon dioxide will be taken up by crops in a changing climate.”

Yes, the pink and red blotches in NASA’s imagery means U.S. corn crops are taking more greenhouses gases from the atmosphere than previously thought.

Watch the video above to see the fluorescent data at work.


[via Modern Farmer]