Ocean color and biogeochemistry (CBIOMES)

Earth observation of ocean color remains our only window into the pelagic ecosystem at synoptic scales. It is a rich source of data, and chlorophyll concentration is the principal product, which provides valuable information on how the light from the sun (the energy source for the entire ecosystem) is coupled to the marine biota through the pigments contained in phytoplankton. The absorbed energy is used by phytoplankton to produce organic carbon (marine primary production). We can combine light at the sea surface (another product available routinely using satellite data), with chlorophyll concentration from ocean color, to estimate marine primary production at the global scale, using models of light penetration, and photosynthesis.

The growing list of satellite products includes phytoplankton functional types and phytoplankton size distribution. It is important to recognize that these products are not raw data. We arrive at them by combining various models with the satellite data on spectral radiance at multiple wavelengths in the visible domain, detected at the level of the satellite. Often, these models are different from, and employ different assumptions from, what is done by ecosystem models.

In this five year $1.25m project, funded through a grant from the US Simons Foundation as part of its Collaboration on Computational Biogeochemical Modeling of Marine Ecosystems (CBIOMES) programme we will develop or improve novel satellite-based products, including phytoplankton functional types, particulate organic carbon, photosynthesis-irradiance parameters and phytoplankton carbon. These products, along with more standard products such as chlorophyll concentration and marine primary production, will form part of the CBIOMES data atlas. They will be used for comparison with ecosystem model outputs, and in data assimilation.

Further Information

The Simons Foundation at its core exists to support basic — or discovery-driven — scientific research, undertaken in pursuit of understanding the phenomena of our world. The Foundation seeks to create strong collaborations and foster cross-pollination of ideas between investigators, as these interactions often lead to unexpected breakthroughs and new understanding.

News article on "Trends in Mediterranean phytoplankton phenology from ocean-color", by Helen Hill on work by Marie-Fanny Racault published in Remote Sensing of the Environment, February 2019.


Salgado-Hernanz, P.M., Racault, M.-F., Font-Muñoz, J.S., Basterretxea, G. 2019. Trends in phytoplankton phenology in the Mediterranean Sea based on ocean-colour remote sensing. Remote Sensing of Environment, 221, 50-64. doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2018.10.036

Key information

Funder: US Simons Foundation

Project start date: July 2017

Project end date: June 2022

View the project website

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Dr Shubha Sathyendranath
Merit Remote Sensing Scientist

Other participants

Dr Glen Tarran, Dr Marie-Fanny Racault, Dr Robert Brewin, Professor Trevor Platt FRS

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