Welcome to the Ocean Ecology Research Web Site

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.


The Visible-Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) mission 

VIIRS has 22 spectral bands, six of which are designed for ocean color and related aerosol corrections (410, 443, 486, 551, 671, 745, and 862 nm). Since the inception of the NPP science team in 2004, the Ocean Biology Processing Group (OBPG, see the Ocean Ecology Laboratory organization chart under Ocean Ecology Overview) has been involved in the prelaunch and postlaunch sensor and algorithm evaluations and related activities.  The original mandate of the NPP science team was to evaluate the operational Environmental Data Records (EDRs) for climate research purposes.  As part of the evaluation strategy, the OBPG developed an independent processing capability that uses algorithms and methods consistent with those used by this group for other ocean color missions, e.g., SeaWiFS and MODIS.  NPP was successfully launched in the October 2011 and the OBPG has since been working to refine the postlaunch calibration (solar, lunar, and vicarious) and other algorithm and data processing methods to determine if VIIRS ocean color products  can be brought into an acceptable level of consistency with the SeaWiFS and MODIS time series.  Recently, sufficient progress was demonstrated for NASA Headquarters to approve the release of VIIRS ocean color evaluation products to the research community via the ocean color website (http://oceancolor.gsfc.nasa.gov).  The figure below shows global chlorophll-a and K(490) composites from VIIRS and MODIS as an example.  The OBPG continues to work on calibration and algorithm refinements to further improve VIIRS data quality and enhance consistency in the multi-mission ocean color data record.  

Ocean Ecology Research News

  • Cruising the Chesapeake for Water and Air Quality

    A NASA-led team of scientists took to the Chesapeake Bay this summer to study a diverse yet close-to-home ecosystem in a field campaign that will help the agency determine how to study ocean health and air quality in coastal regions from space.
  • Team Participation at Calibration Training

    two Ocean Ecology staff members participated in a NASA-sponsored summer course conducted at the University of Maine's Ira C. Darling Marine Center.


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General inquiries about the scientific programs at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center may be directed to the Center Public Affairs office at 1.301.286.8955
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