ESA workshop dedicated to ocean research

Algae bloom in the Bay of Biscay
27 November 2006

The oceans store approximately half of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuel burning, yet there remains a lot about their role in the carbon cycle that remains unidentified, such as carbon absorption. Knowledge of ocean colour and sea surface temperature can help scientists answer these questions.

To support ocean carbon cycle research, ESA initiated the GlobCOLOUR project, aimed at developing a 10-year data set of global ocean colour, in 2005 and the Medspiration project, aimed at charting sea-surface temperatures (SST), in 2003.

In order to report on the progress of each project to date, ESA is holding a three-day workshop in Villefranche sur mer, France, from 4 to 6 December. The workshop marks the first user consultation meeting for GlobCOLOUR and the fourth for Medspiration, which has been demonstrating operational SST products since 2004. For example, an updated map of the SST of all 2 965 500 square kilometres of the Mediterranean is generated every day under the Medspiration project.

Chlorophyll-a pigment concentration
Chlorophyll-a pigment concentration

The workshop will include presentations from scientists as well as end users interested in the products and near-real time services for activities such as data assimilation into local and global oceanographic models. Similar initiatives from other agencies and organisations will also be presented to allow GlobCOLOUR to be set in a wider context. Medspiration users will report on how SST products are already being assimilated into ocean-forecasting models and analysed data products.

GlobCOLOUR presentations will range from overall project organisation to determining phytoplankton types from ocean colour. The main reason scientists want data on ocean colour is to study phytoplankton, which play a fundamental role in regulating the Earth's climate.

Because phytoplankton contain photosynthetic chlorophyll pigments, these simple organisms also play a similar role to terrestrial ‘green’ plants in the photosynthetic process. Phytoplankton are able to convert inorganic compounds such as water, nitrogen and carbon into complex organic materials. With their ability to ‘digest’ these compounds, they are credited with removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as their earthbound ‘cousins’.

Heat maps of the Mediterranean

With SST increasingly seen as a key indicator of climate change, the idea behind Medspiration is to combine data from multiple satellite systems to produce a robust set of sea surface data for assimilation into ocean-forecasting models of the waters around Europe and the whole of the Atlantic Ocean.

Both ESA projects utilise data from state-of-the-art instruments aboard different satellites. GlobCOLOUR uses data from sensors such as MERIS aboard ESA’s Envisat as well as MODIS carried aboard NASA’s Aqua and SeaWiFS aboard GeoEye's Orbview-2 satellite. Medspiration utilises data from ESA’s Envisat and Meteosat-8, the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) polar orbiters, the Japanese’s Space Agency-NASA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission and the AMSRE instrument onboard NASA's Aqua.

The data and services being provided by GlobCOLOUR and Medspiration, projects developed under ESA's Data User Element (DUE) programme, are paving the way for ESA's Sentinel-3 satellite, which will be dedicated to providing operational oceanographic services. Sentinel-3, whose principal payload is an ocean-monitoring altimeter and an optical and infrared radiometer, is scheduled for launch between 2011 and 2012 as part of the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) service.

For more information, please contact:

Cathy Morris
envmail @ esa.int

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