A multiple protocol fluorometer measures photosynthetic parameters of phytoplankton and higher plants using actively stimulated fluorescence protocols. The measured parameters include spectrally-resolved functional and optical absorption cross sections of PSII, extent of energy transfer between reaction centers of PSII, F.sub.0 (minimal), F.sub.m (maximal) and F.sub.v (variable) components of PSII fluorescence, photochemical and non-photochemical quenching, size of the plastoquinone (PQ) pool, and the kinetics of electron transport between Q.sub.a and PQ pool and between PQ pool and PSI. The multiple protocol fluorometer, in one embodiment, is equipped with an excitation source having a controlled spectral output range between 420 nm and 555 nm and capable of generating flashlets having a duration of 0.125-32 .mu.s, an interval between 0.5 .mu.s and 2 seconds, and peak optical power of up to 2 W/cm.sup.2. The excitation source is also capable of generating, simultaneous with the flashlets, a controlled continuous, background illumination.
This invention was made with Government support under contract number DE-AC02-76CH00016, between the U.S. Department of Energy and Associated Universities, Inc. The Government has certain rights in the invention.