David E.

Steitz Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1730) Lanee Cooksey Stennis Space Center, MS (Phone: 228/688-3341) RELEASE: 98-67

April 22, 1998

NEW DEVICE DETECTS PLANT STRESS EARLIER Thanks to a new imaging tool developed at NASA's Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi, farmers and foresters may now be better able to detect unhealthy crops and trees before the damage becomes visible to the naked eye -- information that may be used to increase crop production. Developed by NASA's Bruce Spiering, an electrical engineer at Stennis, the Portable Multi-spectral Imaging System -- an evolution of the basic color television camera -- gives the viewer a picture of which plants are under stress. "Until now, there was no fast and relatively easy way to acquire multi-spectral, matched images," Spiering said. "This system allows the images to be processed and immediately displayed as they are acquired." The system provides researchers with a new tool for gathering this information. Multi-spectral imaging is the use of several individual parts of the light spectrum -- specific wavelengths of light -- to look at objects in different ways and to obtain many different types of information about the objects. The new imager has two benefits over earlier imaging systems. First, each component of the system can be adjusted so that separate images can be processed and combined automatically by application-specific signal processors attached to the system. This provides an instant multi-spectral view of the target while reducing the need for processing the image in a lab. Traditional collecting of multi-spectral information involved use of cameras that recorded information about a specific part of the light spectrum. Images in different wavelengths of light were then combined and processed at a later time. This was a time and labor-intensive process. Second, the use of off-the-shelf parts

makes the imager easily adaptable to any application. One application of the imaging system being researched is the detection of plant stress in crops and forests. The new system currently is designed for use on the ground, but will soon be adapted for use in light aircraft. Plant stress is the adverse reaction of plants to environmental conditions that are unfavorable to growth, such as lack of sufficient nutrients, inadequate watering, disease or insect infestation. The reaction with which most people are familiar is a change in leaf color, but research has found that in many cases, pre-visible signs of stress can be detected using the proper instruments and techniques. Plant stress can be monitored, in part, by observing variations of the plant's reflectance in two specific wavebands of light. Relative levels of chlorophyll, the pigment that enables photosynthesis and gives plants their green color, can be determined by measuring the plant's reflectance of light in those parts of the spectrum. If the plant is under stress, its chlorophyll production typically decreases, which results in more light being reflected from the plant to the imager. "When used in this application, the multi-spectral imaging system along with the real-time processor immediately provides the user with an indication of the amount of chlorophyll in the plant's leaves," Spiering explains. "Previously, the process required the recording of multiple images of the same scene. The images were then matched and aligned with each other, processed and then made available for display only on a computer." Another possible application of the device would be to identify ice on the Space Shuttle external tank prior to launch. The system would record a near-infrared band image that could identify the location of ice, frost or condensing water, and would then record a second, thermal infrared image to determine the temperature at those locations. The system would combine those two separate images instantly to identify patches of ice on the tank. This application is based on a technique that uses thermal imaging to locate the colder areas on the tank where ice could form. This would be an extension of the work already being done at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, FL. The imager also can be modified for use as an instrument to

detect hydrogen fires at such facilities as rocket test stands and other industries that use hydrogen. Hydrogen burns so cleanly that hydrogen fires are practically invisible to the human eye. Several imaging systems already exist for this application, but the Portable Multi-spectral Imaging System can be easily reconfigured to test different cameras and light filters to finetune the system for a variety of applications. -end-