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Biological Oceanography by Remote Sensing

Remote Sensing

  1. M.A. Srokosz

Published Online: 15 SEP 2006

DOI: 10.1002/9780470027318.a2303

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

How to Cite

Srokosz, M. 2006. Biological Oceanography by Remote Sensing. Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry. .

Author Information

  1. Southampton Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2006


Biological oceanography may be studied from space using sensors on satellites that determine the color of the ocean. The presence of phytoplankton (microscopic algae) in the upper layers of the ocean changes the color of the water as seen from above. In simplified terms, this is due to the selective absorption of blue light by the phytoplankton pigments (primarily chlorophyll) which changes the appearance of the water from blue to green. These changes in color can be observed using a satellite-borne spectroradiometer that measures the water-leaving radiance in a number of bands in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The limitations of the technique are first, that only information on the phytoplankton in the upper layers of the ocean can be obtained (light does not penetrate very far into the ocean). Second, most of the signal measured by the satellite sensor originates in the atmosphere (due to the molecular and aerosol scattering of photons there), so careful correction for atmospheric effects is necessary if good ocean data are to be obtained. Of course, in the presence of clouds the sensor will not “see” the ocean surface at all, and no data will be obtained. Third, only one component of the ocean ecosystem, namely the phytoplankton, can be studied by this means. Despite these limitations, satellite observations of ocean color have given new insights into biological oceanography on a global scale that could not have been obtained by any other means of observation. Observations of ocean color have contributed to a better understanding of the biophysical interactions that determine the phytoplankton productivity, the seasonal and interannual variations of the phytoplankton biomass on global scales, and the role of phytoplankton in the climate system. They have also contributed to the improved modeling of biogeochemical processes in the ocean.