Satellite remote sensing: 
A tool for biogeochemical insight


John Ryan, Ph.D.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Wednesday, April 21, 1999
3:00 p.m.—Pacific Forum

Satellite-borne instruments have become an important resource in ocean research, but realization of the potential insight they offer requires coupling with other observational and theoretical tools. I will illustrate two efforts to draw upon the strengths of satellite remote sensing to gain insight into ocean biogeochemical processes.

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Figure 1. CZCS image, 10 May 1980, representing phytoplankton pigment concentrations. Higher concentrations are shown in warmer colors.

The first effort, a regional study, concerns annual biological enhancement along the Northeast U.S. continental shelfbreak during late spring to early summer. This striking biological structure is evident in eight years of satellite ocean color observations from the Coast Zone Color Scanner (Fig. 1). Using satellite ocean color and temperature, and in situ observations, I will illustrate the fundamental attributes, hydrographic/dynamical basis, and biogeochemical significance of this annual biological enhancement.

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Figure 2. Seasonal cycle of zonal ocean C uptake. Results are from a model system utilizing satellite observations in flux calculations.

The second effort, a global study, concerns air-sea flux of carbon dioxide. In our efforts to understand air-sea exchange of this greenhouse gas, satellite instruments provide needed global observations. I will illustrate a model approach that brings together satellite observations with physical, chemical, and biological observation and theory within the infrastructure of an ocean general circulation model. Using monthly inputs, this model system yields reasonable seasonal and zonal distributions (Fig. 2), and annual net flux. Results emphasize the importance of accurate determination of fluxes in defining the spatial and temporal characteristics of oceanic sources and sinks.

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Last updated: December 19, 2000