Eyes in the Sky

[Alternative Title (with apologies to the late David Bowie): Space Oddity Oceanography]

Did you know that in addition to working in the field and laboratory, there are oceanographers that use satellites to study the ocean from space?

Satellite image of the WCOA2016 cruise off Baja California, Mexico (ship not to scale). Image credit: Joint Polar Satellite System
Satellite image of the WCOA2016 cruise off Baja California, Mexico (ship not to scale). Image credit: Joint Polar Satellite System

Satellites can provide information about regions of the ocean where direct measurements aren’t possible or regular, and help with the identification of global trends and seasonal changes in the surface ocean. From satellite information, scientists can analyze sea surface temperature, measure surface winds to support weather forecasts, determine sea surface salinity and measure how much sediment and plant life is in the water.

One area of research for NOAA satellite oceanographers is the study of ocean color. The color of ocean water changes based on how much phytoplankton (single-celled plants), sediment and decomposing material is in the water. In order to correctly analyze ocean color from satellites, scientists need to collect in-water measurements.

Charles Kovach collecting measurements; Point Conception lighthouse in the background. Photo credit: Emma Hodgson

One of our cruise participants, Charles Kovach, is working with scientists from NOAA’s Satellite Oceanography and Climatology Division to collecting in-water measurements that will help satellite oceanographers improve measurements of ocean color from satellites. Charles is also conducting experiments on the cruise to help with the development of tools for measuring ocean acidification from space. This work will help NOAA monitor environmental conditions from space on a regular basis.

Processed satellite image showing chlorophyll (a plant pigment) in the cruise area. Chlorophyll is used as a proxy for phytoplankton abundance. Image credit: NOAA NESDIS
Processed satellite image showing chlorophyll (a plant pigment) in the cruise area. Chlorophyll is used as a proxy for phytoplankton abundance. Image credit: NOAA NESDIS

Emily Smail NOAA NESDIS STARAuthor: Emily Smail, NOAA NESDIS STAR Satellite Oceanography and Climatology Division

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