New Zealand Pitches an Idea That Jet Propulsion Laboratory Liked

Published : Wednesday, November 14, 2018 | 6:38 AM

Map of the 2012 drought in the United States showing differences in water stress. Red areas indicate high water stress (drought conditions) and green areas indication low water stress (non-drought conditions).

A New Zealand-based scientific organization has partnered with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to measure the temperature of plants as a means to finding out how they respond to stress.

For New Zealand’s Centre for Space Science Technology (CSST), based in Alexandra, New Zealand, this will be their first international space mission partnership, assisting JPL as a calibration and validation (cal/val) partner for the NASA ECOSTRESS (Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station) mission.

The ECOSTRESS science instrument, designed and built by JPL, launched on June 29 from Cape Canaveral on board a NASA-contracted SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, and is now installed in the International Space Station. The instrument, roughly the size of a refrigerator, is slated to remain at the ISS for at least 12 months.

According to JPL, ECOSTRESS measures the temperature of plants from its perch at the ISS and uses that information to better understand how much water plants need and how they respond to stress.

CSST initially reached out to JPL after identifying an opportunity for New Zealand researchers to contribute to the ECOSTRESS mission, a CSST statement said Monday.

The Center, in partnership with three other New Zealand organizations, has been managing ecological research sites where tower-mounted sensors measure the exchanges of carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, and other gases – exactly what is needed to calibrate and validate space-based measurements from ECOSTRESS.

At JPL, work is now underway to calibrate and validate the preliminary ECOSTRESS science data by comparing the space-borne measurements with similar measurements made at ground control sites around the world, including most of CSST’s sites. This type of quality control process is a critical component of all space-based missions and ensures that remote observations can be reliably tied to what is actually happening at ground level.

“The CSST and New Zealand researchers have established an important network of ecosystem measurements across a diverse landscape,” Dr. Joshua Fisher, JPL scientist and ECOSTRESS science lead, said. “This is important not only for understanding New Zealand’s rich ecology, but also for helping NASA to calibrate and validate similar measurements from space by ECOSTRESS.”

Dr. Kerry Cawse-Nicholson, ECOSTRESS calibration/validation head at JPL, said they are excited to work with the New Zealand team and “look forward to doing more work with them in the future.”

By contributing to the ECOSTRESS mission, the New Zealand researchers are playing a key role not only in advancing scientific understanding, but also in enabling water managers, farmers, and policy-makers to use the data for better decision-making.

The information gleaned from the mission can be used to protect the world’s vulnerable ecosystems, increase agricultural yield and optimize forestry management.

“We hope that this is the beginning of many science partnerships with key international space actors,” said Steve Cotter, CSST’s CEO. “It’s an exciting opportunity for us at CSST, but even more so for the whole of New Zealand, who will have free access to the data produced by ECOSTRESS and the opportunity to use that data for their own scientific research or to develop applications based on learnings from the collected data.”

For more information about the ECOSTRESS mission, visit

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