Ocean Ecology conducts research on ocean ecosystems and the interactions between Earth's chemical cycles and life. The laboratory also manages “ocean color” data from NASA satellite sensors. Sediment, dissolved chemicals, and marine microorganisms called phytoplankton affect the colors of sunlight reflected off the ocean, providing a way to monitor ocean ecosystems from orbit.
The staff works to ensure the accuracy of ocean-color data and make it available to users across the world. Scientists use the data to study fundamental issues such as the global distribution of phytoplankton, the storage of carbon in the ocean, and the role of the oceans in climate change. Personnel also participate in research cruises in collaboration with other researchers funded by NASA and assist NASA Headquarters in developing future earth-observing missions.