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Ocean colour/biology


Remote sensing measurements of ocean colour (i.e. the detection of phytoplankton pigments) provide the only global-scale focus on the biology and productivity of the ocean’s surface layer. Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that live in the ocean, and like terrestrial plants, they contain the pigment chlorophyll, which gives them their greenish colour. Different shades of ocean colour reveal the presence of differing concentrations of sediments, organic materials and phytoplankton. The ocean over regions with high concentrations of phytoplankton is shaded from blue-green to green, depending on the type and density of the phytoplankton population. From space, satellite sensors can distinguish even slight variations in colour which cannot be detected by the human eye.
Detailed MeasurementDescription*InstrumentsTimeline
Color dissolved organic matter (CDOM)Former name: “Yellow substance absorbance”. Parameter extracted from ocean colour observation. Indicative of biomass undergoing decomposition processes. Requested in both open ocean and coastal zone - Physical unit: [ m-1 ] - Accuracy unit: [ % ] at a specific concentration (e.g., 1 m-1).10 instruments
Ocean chlorophyll concentrationParameter extracted from ocean colour observation. Indicative of leaving phytoplankton biomass. Requested in both open ocean and coastal zone - Physical unit: [ mg/m3 ] - Accuracy unit: [ % ] at a specific concentration (e.g., 1 mg/m3).25 instruments
Ocean suspended sediment concentrationParameter extracted from ocean colour observation. Indicative of river outflow, re-suspension or pollution of other-than-biological origin. Requested in both open ocean and coastal zone - Physical unit: [ g/m3 ] - Accuracy unit: [ % ] at a specific concentration (e.g., 2 g/m3).11 instruments
* Description adapted from WMO.
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