“The ocean is constantly changing and is full of interesting phenomena. Satellites allow us to view and learn about the ocean on a scale that is not otherwise possible.

In this post, I will share information about oceanographic features that can be observed with satellites, current events and projects that utilize CoastWatch/Oceanwatch products. I hope you enjoy learning about our dynamic ocean and satellite oceanography!”

-- Emily

About Emily

Dr. Emily Smail is the Education and Outreach Coordinator for NOAA CoastWatch/OceanWatch. Emily also serves as the Scientific Coordinator for the Group on Earth Observations Oceans and Society: Blue Planet Initiative (GEO Blue Planet) and GEO AquaWatch.

Emily has a PhD in Marine Environmental Biology from the University of Southern California and has a background in informal science education, policy and biogeochemistry.

Student Spotlight: India Oliver

This summer, NOAA CoastWatch/OceanWatch/PolarWatch hosted undergraduate summer intern, India Oliver, as part of an undergraduate scholarship program run through NOAA’s Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions. India is a rising junior and biology major at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and is interested in Biological Marine Science with a particular interest in how marine organisms adapt to changing environments.

India Oliver presenting her work to NOAA’s Satellite Oceanography and Climatology Division in College Park, MD. Photo credit: NOAA.
India Oliver presenting her work to NOAA’s Satellite Oceanography and Climatology Division in College Park, MD. Photo credit: NOAA.

India worked with her mentor, Dr. Sheekela Baker-Yeboah, on the NOAA in situ Ocean Color Optics Database that Dr. Baker-Yeboah is developing to support satellite validation and algorithm calibration.

Intern India Oliver (right) with her mentor Dr. Sheekela Baker-Yeboah (left). Photo credit: NOAA.
Intern India Oliver (right) with her mentor Dr. Sheekela Baker-Yeboah (left). Photo credit: NOAA.

"This internship has been helpful because it has opened my eyes to a new perspective in ocean science, gave me more knowledge on Ocean Color research and showed me how this project contributes to my interests," said India. "It has brought me out of my comfort zone and gave me room to grow so later on I can explore other field related to marine science. I encourage others to always go out of your comfort zone because you never know what will happen."

India plans for the future are to complete her undergraduate degree at UMES and attend graduate school in Marine Biology. Ultimately, she would like to return to NOAA as a research scientist.

NOAA Ocean Satellite Data Courses

Are you interested in using oceanographic satellite data in your work but don't know where to start? The NOAA Ocean Satellite Data Course is for you!

The NOAA CoastWatch West Coast Regional Node and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s Environmental Research Division have been offering a three-day NOAA Ocean Satellite Data Course annually since 2006.

Participants of the course acquire the knowledge and tools they need to incorporate satellite data into their research and management projects through a series of lectures on environmental satellite data and hands on labs.

CoastWatch West Coast Node Manager Cara Wilson (front, center) supports a participant (Roberto Venegas) during the laboratory portion of the 2017 satellite data course (Image credit: Dale Robinson).
CoastWatch West Coast Node Manager Cara Wilson (front, center) supports a participant (Roberto Venegas) during the laboratory portion of the 2017 satellite data course (Image credit: Dale Robinson).

The West Coast Node’s 2018 course will be held in August at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. In addition, CoastWatch is working to expand course offerings and plans to offer courses in other regions in the coming years.

Interested in hearing about future CoastWatch satellite data courses and training resources? Contact coastwatch.info@noaa.gov

Satellite imagery shows the impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico, the hurricane hit Puerto Rico on September 21, 2017.

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Improving satellite sea surface temperature analysis

Information about sea surface temperature is important for weather and ocean forecasting, climate monitoring, military and defense operations, ecosystem assessment, fisheries analyses and tourism operations.

NOAA's Sea Surface Temperature Team is working to improve their products by reanalyzing past data with NOAA's Advanced Clear-Sky Processor for Oceans (ACSPO) using the enterprise algorithm. This reanalysis fills in some areas with data gaps and allows for improved comparison of data from different satellite sensors.

Currently, CoasWatch/OceanWatch is hosting version 1 of reanalyzed sea surface temperature data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHHR) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). Stay tuned for the release of additional versions.

VIIRS reprocessed sea surface temperature data (May 14, 2012)
A sample image of the VIIRS reprocessed sea surface temperature data (May 14, 2012).

    References and Related Reading

    •   Dash, P., A. Ignatov, Y. Kihai & J. Sapper, 2010: The SST Quality Monitor (SQUAM). JTech, 27, 1899-1917, doi:10.1175/2010JTECHO756.1, www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/sod/sst/squam/
    •   Liang, X. & A. Ignatov, 2011: Monitoring of IR Clear-sky Radiances over Oceans for SST (MICROS). JTech, 28, 1228-1242, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-10-05023.1, www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/sod/sst/micros/
    •   Xu, F. & A. Ignatov, 2014: In situ SST Quality Monitor (iQuam). JTech, 31, 164-180, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-13-00121.1, www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/sod/sst/iquam/
    •   Petrenko, B., A. Ignatov, Y. Kihai, J. Stroup, P. Dash, 2014: Evaluation and Selection of SST Regression Algorithms for JPSS VIIRS. JGR, 119, 4580-4599, doi:10.1002/2013JD020637
    •   Petrenko, B., A. Ignatov, Y. Kihai, and A. Heidinger, 2010: Clear-Sky Mask for ACSPO. JTech, 27, 1609-1623

Detecting sea level anomalies with satellites

The sea surface is a dynamic mixture of bumps and dips resulting from a variety of factors including gravity, ocean currents and the rotation of the Earth. Scientists study variations in sea surface height using radar altimeters on satellites. These altimeters emit radar pulses that bounce off the ocean’s surface and are detected by a sensor on the satellite when they return. Sea surface height derived from satellite altimeters is accurate to within about 3-4 centimeters.

Anomalies in sea level can be identified by calculating the difference between the measured sea surface height and the average sea surface height. By studying sea level anomalies, scientists can improve understanding of ocean circulation patterns and improve forecasts of climatological events such as El Niño and La Niña.

The NOAA Laboratory for Satellite Altimetry produces daily near-real time global sea level anomaly datasets from a constellation of radar altimeter missions. These datasets are now available through CoastWatch/OceanWatch and can be accessed here.

Global map of sea level anomalies for June 26, 2017 produced using the NOAA Laboratory for Satellite Altimetry’s daily near-real time dataset
Global map of sea level anomalies for June 26, 2017 produced using the NOAA Laboratory for Satellite Altimetry’s daily near-real time dataset.

    References and Related Reading

    •   CryoSat Ground Segment, Instrument Processing Facility L1B, Products Specification Format, ESA: CS-RS-ACS-GS-5106, Issue: 6.4, April 2015. https://earth.esa.int/documents/10174/125273/CryoSat_L1_Products_Format_Specification
    •   CryoSat Product Handbook, April 2012, https://earth.esa.int/documents/10174/125272/CryoSat_Product_Handbook
    •   Jason-3 Product Handbook, SALP-MU-M-OP-16118-CN, edition 1.2, Feb. 2016 https://www.nodc.noaa.gov/media/pdf/jason2/j3_user_handbook.pdf
    •   Leuliette, E. W., and R. Scharroo (2010). Integrating Jason-2 into a Multiple-Altimeter Climate Data Record. Marine Geodesy, 33(1), 504517. doi:10.1080/01490419.2010.487795
    •   OSTM/Jason-2 Products Handbook, CNES: SALP-MU-M-OP-15815-CN EUMETSAT: EUM/OPS-JAS/MAN/08/0041 JPL: OSTM-29-1237: NOAA/NESDIS: Polar Series/OSTM J400, Issue: 1 rev 10, October, 2016, https://www.nodc.noaa.gov/media/pdf/jason2/j2_user_handbook.pdf
    •   SARAL/AltiKa Products handbook, SALP-MU-M-OP-15984-CN, edition 2.5, July 2016; http://www.aviso.altimetry.fr/fileadmin/documents/data/tools/SARAL_Altika_products_handbook_01.pdf
    •   Scharroo, R., E. Leuliette, M. Naeije, C. Martin-Puig, and N. Pires (2016), RADS Version 4: An Efficient Way to Analyse the Multi-Mission Altimeter Database, Living Planet Symposium, Proceedings of the conference held 9-13 May 2016 in Prague, Czech Republic. Edited by L. Ouwehand. ESA-SP Volume 740, ISBN: 978-92- 9221-305- 3.
    •   Sentinel-3 User Handbook, ESA: GMES-S3OP-EOPG-TN-13-0001, Issue 1, September 2013, https://sentinel.esa.int/documents/247904/685236/Sentinel-3_User_Handbook

A Satellite's View of Coastal Erosion - 02/17

One expected impact of climate change is an increase in the frequency and severity of storms in the eastern United States. As such, many coastal communities and ecosystems are increasingly vulnerable to the detrimental impacts of coastal erosion. The CoastWatch East Coast node monitors coastal erosion by tracking in-water sediment values. This is done through the calculation of a sediment index based on the amount of red light, a strong indicator of in-water sediment, reflected from coastal waters measured by the VIIRS instrument on-board the Suomi-NPP satellite

As seen in the below sediment index images of the Mid-Atlantic coast before and after the passing of tropical storm Hermine in early September 2016, storms frequently cause coastal erosion and redistribute the coastal sediment offshore.

CoastWatch Sediment Index before (August 27, 2016 - left) and after the passing of tropical storm Hermine (September 6, 2016 - right).
CoastWatch Sediment Index before (August 27, 2016 - left) and after the passing of tropical storm Hermine (September 6, 2016 - right). White depicts high sediment index values and blue depicts low sediment index values. Black represents areas with no data due to land or cloud cover.

    References and Related Reading

    •   Gao, Y., Fu, J.S., Drake, J.B., Liu, Y., Lamarque, J-F. 2012. Projected changes of extreme weather events in the eastern United States based on a high resolution climate modeling system. Environmental Research Letters 7(4).
    •   National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Mitigating Shore Erosion along Sheltered Coasts. 2007.Mitigating Shore Erosion along Sheltered Coasts. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C, USA. ).
    •   Wubbles, D.J., Kunkel, K., Wehner, M., Zobel, Z. 2014. Severe weather in United States under a changing climate. Earth and Space Science News 95(18): 149-150.

The Tongue of the Ocean - 02/17

The Tongue of the Ocean is a deep water basin in the Bahamas that is surrounded to the east, west and south by a carbonate bank known as the Great Bahama Bank. The deep blue water of the Tongue is a stark contrast to the shallow turquoise waters of the surrounding Bank. This sheltered region is a popular foraging ground for cetateans including Cuvier's and Blainville's beaked whales.

VIIRS-SNPP True Color Image from 2 May 2016. Image courtesy of NOAA STAR Ocean Color Team.
VIIRS-SNPP True Color Image from 2 May 2016. Image courtesy of NOAA STAR Ocean Color Team.

Water primarily enters the Tongue of the Ocean from the Northwest Providence Channel to the north though water from the Bank is known to intermittently mix into the Tongue's surface waters. In general, the concentration of chlorophyll in this area of the Bahamas are higher in winter months and lower in summer months.

VIIRS-SNPP NOAA Science Quality monthly composite of chlorophyll in the Tongue of the Ocean (August 2015 - left, December 2015 - right)
VIIRS-SNPP NOAA Science Quality monthly composite of chlorophyll in the Tongue of the Ocean (August 2015 - left, December 2015 - right)

    References and Related Reading

    •   Hooper V, J.A., Baringer, M.O., St. Laurent, L.C., and Dewar, D.N. 2016. Dissipation processes in the Tongue of the Ocean. Journal of Geophysical - Oceans.
    •   Condal, A.R., Vega-Moro, A., Ardisson, P.L. 2013. Climatological, annual and seasonal variability in chlorophyll concentration in the Gulf of Mexico, western Caribbean, and Bahamas using NASA colour maps. International Journal of Remote Sensing: 34(5), 1591-1614.
    •   Shonting, D.H. 1970. On the distribution of temperature, salinity and oxygen in the Tongue of the Ocean, Bahamas. Bulletin of Marine Science: 20(1): 35-56.

The Gulf of Mexico Loop Current - 02/17

The Gulf of Mexico loop current on April 20, 2016 as shown by the CoastWatch GOES-POES Global Sea Surface Temperature product. The Gulf of Mexico loop current on April 20, 2016 as shown by the CoastWatch GOES-POES Global Sea Surface Temperature product.

The Gulf of Mexico loop current brings warm Caribbean water northward between the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba and into the Gulf. The current loops around the Gulf, flows southeastward into the Florida Strait where it serves as a parent to the Florida current and ultimately joins the Gulf Stream.

The loop current is one of the fastest currents in the Atlantic, traveling at speeds of approximately 0.8 m/s, and is typically about 800 m deep. The extent of the loop current's intrusion into the Gulf varies with eddies frequently breaking off when the current stretches far into the Gulf.

    References and Related Reading

    •   Gopalakrishnan, G., B.D. Cornuelle, I. Hoteit, D.L. Rudnick and W.B. Owens. State estimates and forecasts of the loop current in the Gulf of Mexico using the MITgcm and its adjoint. 2013. Journal of Geophysical Research 118(7): 3292-3314.
    •   Hamilton, P. 1990. Deep Currents in the Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Physical Oceanography 20: 1087-1104.
    •   Hamilton, P., G.S. Fargin, and D.C. Biggs. 1998. Loop current eddy paths in the Western Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Physical Oceanography 29: 1180-1207.
    •   Zeng, X., Y. Li, and R. He. Predictability of the loop current variation and eddy shedding process in the Gulf of Mexico using an artificial neural network approach. 2015. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology 32: 1098-1111.