Solar Eclipse Has Effect On Sagebrush, UW Scientists Find

Jun 26, 2019

UW researchers Daniel Beverly, Mario Bretfeld and Adam Nibbelink set up devices in sagebrush at a site 50 miles south of Yellowstone National Park to measure sagebrush response to the total solar eclipse in August 2017.
Credit Krag Beverly

In August 2017, a large slice of Wyoming found itself under or near the solar eclipse's path of totality.

 

As most of the state gazed skyward, UW Doctoral Student Daniel Beverly looked to the desert shrubs that dominate many areas of Wyoming.

"People always talk about animals during the eclipses but no one ever talks about plants," Beverly said. "So, it was pretty fun just to see - what are plants doing during the eclipse?"

Plants get their energy from the sun, converting sunlight into chemical energy through a process called photosynthesis. So when plants lose that sunlight - such as when the sun sets or when the moon blocks out the sun during an eclipse - that process slows down.

Beverly led a team of UW scientists to a site 50 miles south of Yellowstone, measuring the photosynthetic responses of local sagebrush the day before, and the day of, the eclipse.

Beverly said the eclipse had an effect.

"Then we scaled those photosynthetic and transpiration responses to the entire distribution of sagebrush across the western United States and found a 14 percent decrease of carbon uptake for that entire day compared to the same day but without an eclipse," he said.

Beverly's research was published in the journal Scientific Reports, and builds on previous research about the impacts an eclipse can have on both plant and animal life.