Coastal Observations: a Biological Perspective

Coastal Observation Mission

Science

"In order to develop the predictive capability that our society requires in order to address issues such as climate change, natural variability, over-fishing, pollution, overuse, we must first develop an understanding of how the coastal ocean behaves. The path to prediction begins with observation."

—Dr. John Moisan
   NASA Researcher

Education

"The coastal oceans are not only the most biologically productive part of the oceans, but are affected greatly by human activity. This naturally leads to the importance of educating people about the coastal ocean environment."

—Brian Campbell
   NASA Education Specialist

The CoastalObs Project is a collaborative effort between NASA Goddard’s Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences in Greenbelt, Maryland and Wallops Island, Virginia, NOAA and a number of governmental, academic and nonacademic partners. The program’s main focus is to monitor the physical and biogeochemical state of the Virginia coastal ocean region through the development, deployment and use of various ocean observation tools.

Coastal regions within the Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB) are directly influenced by regional freshwater fluxes that emanate from several large bay systems (the Delaware and Chesapeake bays). The outflows from these bays have high sediment loads and high levels of nutrients, particulates and dissolved organic matter (POM, DOM) that heavily influence the adjacent coastal margin ecosystems. In addition to this, this coastal region is downwind of a large number of metropolitan and industrial regions and the influence of these impacts the region through airshed fluxes.

Our effort is developing and deploying an observing system aimed at characterizing and monitoring this coastal region in order to understand the impact of climate change and continued anthropogenic influences. A primary focus of this effort is to develop and apply cutting-edge technologies and methodologies to support research, observation/monitoring efforts, and management applications on the coastal ocean. A second focus is to develop and test new sensors, platforms, and applications that can be used to enhance this observing system and additionally support NOAA and NASA coastal ocean remote sensing activities and products.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this program, please contact Brian Campbell, Education Manager.

Highlights

What Are Phytoplankton?

Phytoplankton (phyton = plant; planktos = wandering) are small, single-celled organisms that live in the sea. There are approximately 10,000 species of phytoplankton. They are characterized by size, shape, and pigmentation.

We can observe phytoplankton with satellite instruments via ocean color remote sensing, primarily with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's SeaWiFS instrument and MODIS instrument. The satellite detects different concentrations of Chlorophyll a with ocean color satellites. All phytoplankton have Chlorophyll a and accessory pigment that are either photosynthetic or photoprotective accessory pigments. Phytoplankton convert sunlight into biomass using a process called photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, phytoplankton use solar radiation, water and carbon dioxide to yield glucose (a carbon form of energy they can utilize) and oxygen.

Overall Equation of Photosynthesis:

6CO2 + 12H2O + sunlight -> C6H12O6 + 6O2 + 6H2O

Phytoplankton and other plants use glucose as "building blocks" to grow. Also, through photosynthesis, these microscopic marine plants nourish the entire marine food web.

Finally, phytoplankton are essential because they are a critical part of the ocean biology and in part control the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Oceanography Resources