Keeping a Close Eye on the Ocean—from Afar

Read more at Eos

Upwelling regions account for just 1% of the world’s oceans, yet they are responsible for producing roughly half of the global fishing industry’s annual harvest—worth an estimated $362 billion as of 2016. These nutrient-dense, cool-water regions play a vital role in global ecosystems, supporting the growth of the seaweed and plankton that are the backbone of the marine food web.

Remote sensing technology enables scientists to keep a close eye on how climate change is affecting upwelling regions. Satellites in low Earth orbit, for example, can provide estimates of water temperature and other key upwelling metrics across vast swaths of the planet. Satellite technology has an easier time with some regions than with others, however. In the Arctic—a critical area for both global climate and ocean biodiversity, where significant upwelling takes place—the complexities of sea ice processes and other phenomena can drive big differences between data captured by satellite and data captured on the ground (or “on the water,” as the case may be).

A 2019 study conducted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory represents an important, albeit incremental, step forward in addressing this problem. “One of the challenges in remote sensing right now is to improve the satellite-derived data sets so people can use them for monitoring purposes,” said Jorge Vazquez, lead author of the study. Vazquez presented his findings in a poster session at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2020…

“I’m a huge proponent of Earth observation from space. I think that it provides an incredibly important, complementary view to what we get by being on a ship,” said Eric Hochberg, senior scientist at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. “It’s important to have complementary viewpoints, and it’s also very important that we know [that] our satellite data, our products, are accurate.”

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