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Ocean Ecology

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.

Space Missions


The Visible and Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) is a multi-disciplinary instrument that is being flown on the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) series of spacecraft.


The Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission is a recent addition to the NASA flight program manifest as recommended in the report, “Responding to the Challenge of Climate and Environmental Change:  NASA’s plan for a Climate-Centric Architecture for Earth Observations and Applications from Space”, published in June 2010.   As described in the report, the primary objective is to “make essential global ocean color measurements, essential for understanding the carbon cycle and how it both affects and is affected by climate change…”. 


Greater radiometric accuracy, decreased size and costs, plus the need for multidisciplinary research are all technology-forcing challenges to be addressed by the next generation of optical instruments. To develop a commercially successful marine spectroradiometer, the device must also appeal to the majority of investigators working in this field. This requirement led to the development of a so-called smart photodetector or microradiometer, plus its ancillary interface modules.


Development of field radiometers for satellite calibration and validation.


Field Campaigns

The Aerosol Characterization from Polarimeter and Lidar (ACEPOL) airborne field campaign. The 2017 ACEPOL field campaign is a resource for remote sensing communities as they prepare for the next generation of spaceborne multi-angle polarimeter and lidar missions.

The seventh and final cruise for the project entitled "Impacts of Climate Variability on Primary Production and Carbon Distributions in the Middle Atlantic Bight and Gulf of Maine" (CLiVEC) was carried out on board the R/V Henry Bigelow from August 7-24, 2012. CLiVEC is a joint research project with researchers from Old Dominion University (ODU) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).