Coastal Observations: a Biological Perspective

Education in the Classroom

Phytoplankton play a critical role in regulating global CO2 and climate. Thus, there is a need for updating oceanographic education at the undergraduate level to modern ways of estimating phytoplankton concentration in the global ocean. New and innovative techniques to study phytoplankton dynamics have been developed in the past decades, in particular with the introduction of satellite remote sensing of ocean color.

With support from the Marine Science Consortium, and the help of a group of scientists, administrators, and educators, NASA's Educational Director Discretionary Fund helped students to learn the history and the applications of ocean color remote sensing and the fundamental principles of optics.

In the classroom, Dr. Tiffany Moisan educates the students on global coverage of sensors, accuracy of space borne sensors, atmospheric correction, backscatter and absorption. The students also get a "hand-on" approach and an in depth understanding of the principles of spectral absorption and scattering that form the basis for satellite retrieval of phytoplankton abundance from ocean color radiance imagery. Using a low cost spectrometer, students participate in the same predictive process used by scientists through the comprehension of basic scientific principles of optics as applied to marine science, accessing oceanographic data and analyzing data patterns and trends. Students perform preliminary engineering experiments to fully understand the principles of optics and to determine the field of view of the spectrometer. Figure 1 shows the setup used to determine the changes in intensity of the light as reflectance changed (as the sizes of the black circle increased). The light source used was a fluorescent light and a Tungsten/halogen lamp at variable distances. The setup shown on Figure 2 was used to measure the variability of the spectrometer.

Next, students sample a subset of the satellite's areal coverage on a cruise out on the Mid Atlantic Ocean and obtain the data that serves to demonstrate how to calibrate the satellite and derive Chlorophyll a estimates with this low cost device. In addition, students collected oceanographic data using a ADCP, CTD, fluorometer, absorption data. Theses data are available through our FTP website for other educators to use in their classroom. Students directly observe phytoplankton with classical methods and relate what they observed to that which the satellite has observed. This exercise enables the students to apply and validate scientific concepts being learned in the classroom to real world situations and provide students with skills to interpret and analyze real data.

Figure 1

Figure 1
Change in Light Intensity Versus Reflectance



Figure 2
Measuring Variability of Spectrometer