News / Center News / March 27, 2024

ASC scientists released long-term data of ground solar-induced fluorescence  to improve understanding of canopy-level photosynthesis 

A recent study led by Agroecosystem Sustainability Center (ASC) scientists utilized ground-based instruments to measure solar-induced fluorescence (SIF) that reflect plant health and photosynthesis.

Locations and site images of the SIF systems (Image credit: Genghong Wu).

In recent years, the scientific community has increasingly turned its attention to sustainable agriculture, aiming to maximize crop yield while minimizing environmental impact. A crucial aspect of this research involves understanding the fundamental processes of plant photosynthesis and how they can be monitored at scale. One promising method for assessing photosynthetic activity is through the measurement of sun-induced chlorophyll fluorescence, a byproduct of photosynthesis that can be detected from ground-based sensors as well as from satellites in space.

The study led by Genghong Wu, a PhD student advised by Agroecosystem Sustainability Center (ASC) Director Kaiyu Guan,, and others utilized ground-based instruments to measure far-red SIF and various vegetation indices (VIs) that reflect plant health and activity. It compiled 15 site-years of SIF and VIs data from various crops (corn, soybean, and miscanthus) over a span of six years (2016-2021) within the U.S. Corn Belt (Illinois and Nebraska). Their results are published in Scientific Data.

“Eddy covariance towers are currently the gold standard for measuring canopy photosynthesis ,” Wu explained. “However, they are expensive and are distributed over limited sites across the globe. Satellite SIF can provide us spatially continuous data. However, fully utilizing satellite SIF for photosynthesis monitoring requires a mechanistic understanding of the relationship between the two.”

This comprehensive dataset provided in this study can be used to gain insights into the mechanistic relationship between far-red SIF and canopy-level photosynthesis. This relationship is critical for interpreting SIF readings accurately, whether they come from ground-based observations or satellite imagery. Importantly, the study provides a robust dataset that can serve as a benchmark for validating satellite SIF products, which are increasingly used to monitor global agricultural systems and carbon cycling. Moreover, the dataset can be used to improve models for predicting crop yield and assessing plant health on a large scale, contributing to more informed agricultural practices and policies.

“We are one of the first groups worldwide to develop such a network for long-term SIF measurements, dated back to 2016”, commented by Guan. “It was a huge team effort with multiple PhD students and postdocs for the past 7 years, thanks to funding from multiple funding agencies, including NASA, DOE, and NSF.”

“One of our goals was to provide researchers a broader application of this data set,” Wu noted.

“Thus, this paper provides a detailed description of  how we collected, processed and indirectly validated the datasets and what are the potential applications of the data.”

Wu also points out that while many researchers collect SIF and photosynthesis data, there isn’t a standard method for doing so.

“People have collected and processed the SIF data in different ways,” Wu said. “There are several systems with different instrumentation designs. We needed a detailed record of our systems and set-up to hopefully be helpful for setting the standard for collecting and processing this data in the future.”

“We decided to be transparent with our method so that others can trust the reliability of our data.” Wu said. “ They can also now use our SIF data to assimilate the land surface models to estimate the carbon cycle or the water cycle in addition to photosynthesis estimation and stress detection.”

Other investigators on the project included Hyungsuk Kimm and Chongya Jiang from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (affiliated labs within the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES), the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES), the DOE Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI), and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and Xi Yang from the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia as assistance from members of the Research Institute of Agriculture and Life Science at Seoul National University, Republic of Korea,

About the Agroecosystem Sustainability Center (ASC): The Agroecosystem Sustainability Center was founded in 2021 to lead global efforts in harmonizing sustainable food production with thriving ecosystems. The Center strives to revolutionize agricultural systems through research, collaboration, and engagement, bridging science and practice for agricultural productivity and ecosystem sustainability. Centered in the heart of Midwest on the campus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign under the umbrella of both the College of Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences (ACES) and the Institute of Sustainability, Energy, and the Environment (iSEE), ASC is positioned at the critical intersection of academia, industry, policy, and on-the-ground practice. ASC is creating a diverse and dynamic hub for driving change and is committed to transforming its research into practical and scalable solutions, fortifying our ecosystems, bolstering farm profitability, and empowering agricultural systems to proactively mitigate and adapt to the realities of climate change.

Media Contact: Mike Koon, ASC Communication Lead (