Exciting ocean-color images from the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) -- the first readily available ocean-color data in more than ten years -- should play a major role in studying the ongoing El Nino and in other global warming research.
The SeaWiFS data also is giving scientists their first continuous look at the global biosphere -- the combination of living organisms and their environment. Ocean color is largely determined by the concentration of microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton. Accurately measuring phytoplankton concentration is important to climate change research and to local economic concerns such as commercial fishing.
"The images are more than we ever could have hoped for," said oceanographer Dr. Gene C. Feldman, who heads SeaWiFS's data processing team at the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. "Although originally designed to just study the oceans, we've also discovered a way of using it to study the land as well, and as a result, we can study the global biosphere for the very first time."
"The new images clearly show areas of coastal upwelling along the northwest U.S., Argentina and western South Africa. These upwelling events foster dramatic plankton blooms which are a critical source of food for major fisheries. The data will be extremely valuable for fisheries management," said Dr. Charles McClain, SeaWiFS Project Scientist.
SeaWiFS offers great potential for monitoring oceanic conditions that have serious, and often tragic, effects on human health. Coastal blooms of algae have been associated with cholera outbreaks around the world. Early detection of these blooms, and subsequent in-water sampling, may significantly reduce the impact of these outbreaks. Red tides, ocean dumping of organic and chemical waste, and perhaps even oil spills can be tracked with SeaWiFS data, Feldman said.
With SeaWiFS, NASA is leading an international collaboration of researchers. More than 300 scientists representing 35 countries have already registered to use the data. Thirty-eight ground stations spread over 18 countries will receive data from the spacecraft.
NASA also has developed a software package called the SeaWiFS Data Analysis System (SeaDAS) for scientists worldwide to process the data. More than 150 scientists have already been to Goddard to learn how to use this package. Another 79 scientists from 11 countries are signed up for SeaDAS training at the Center this fall.
The SeaWIFS instrument is aboard a commercially built and operated satellite called OrbView 2, owned by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, VA. OrbView 2 was launched at 3 p.m. EDT Aug. 1, 1997, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, aboard an Orbital Pegasus XL launch vehicle. The SeaWiFS mission is unlike many other NASA missions. NASA's SeaWiFS Project described the data they wanted to purchase without giving specific requirements for the spacecraft itself.
"It's a whole new way of doing business," said SeaWiFS Project Manager Dr. Mary Cleave.
The SeaWiFS instrument was built by Hughes/Santa Barbara Remote Sensing, Santa Barbara, CA, and is the only scientific payload on the SeaStar spacecraft, developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. NASA is buying the data and is providing it to researchers throughout the world.
SeaWiFS is a follow-on sensor to the Coastal Zone Color Scanner (CZCS), which operated aboard NASA's Nimbus-7 satellite from 1978-1986 and proved that satellite sensors could detect ocean-color from space. SeaWiFS improves on CZCS by providing global coverage every 48 hours, giving a more accurate determination of phytoplankton concentration.
Images from SeaWiFS are available from the World Wide Web at URL:
The SeaWiFS program supports NASA's Mission to Planet Earth enterprise, a long-term coordinated research effort to study the Earth as a global system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment. Using the unique perspective available from space, NASA is observing, monitoring and assessing large-scale environmental processes focusing on climate change.
Materials provided by National Aeronautics And Space Administration. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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