Ocean Color

Report: Assessing Requirements for Sustained Ocean Color Research and Operations
CZCS image of phytoplankton pigments

CZCS image of phytoplankton pigments in the North Atlantic Ocean. SOURCE: NASA.

Satellite measurements of ocean color provide a unique global perspective on the health of the ocean by allowing scientists to track changes in the abundance and productivity of phytoplankton, microscopic organisms that live in the ocean’s surface waters and form the base of the marine food chain. Monitoring phytoplankton abundance can provide information on the ocean’s essential functions and resources, which can be used to assess long-term climate changes, evaluate support of fisheries production, and detect harmful algal blooms, among other uses. However, the nation is at risk of losing access to ocean color data because existing satellite sensors are aging, and planned new satellite missions might not be able to acquire data at the accuracy levels needed for climate research. This report reviews the minimum requirements to sustain global ocean color measurements for research and operational use and identifies options to minimize the risk of an ocean color data gap.

Links to other sources:

NASA Ocean Color websites

•  Ocean Color Web

•  Ocean Color as NASA Oceanography



NOAA Ocean Color websites

•  Ocean Color at NOAA Satellite and Information Service Ocean Color

•  NOAA Comprehensive Large-array Data Stewardship System

•  Science on a Sphere

Artist's drawing of the Nimbus

What is ocean color?

The surface of the ocean changes color depending on the chemicals and particles floating in the water. In the open ocean, the water is quite clear except for times when nutrients stimulate phytoplankton (microscopic free-floating photosynthetic organisms) growth, which can color the ocean in shades of green. In addition, dissolved organic chemicals can change the …

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Haze following rivers in Asia

Why is ocean color important?

Roughly 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean. About half of the global primary production (photosynthesis) occurs in the ocean. Most of the primary producers in the ocean comprise microscopic plants and some bacteria; these photosynthetic organisms called phytoplankton form the base of the ocean’s food web. Changes in phytoplankton biomass would have …

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Download a list of the seven key findings here Assessing Requirements for Sustained Ocean Color Research and Operations

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