Rather than just exploring Mars and other planets, NASA also leads important climate research on the Earth. One of those projects is the agency’s Cloud-Aerosol LIdar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP), an instrument aboard the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) satellite, which monitors plankton levels through clouds.
Previously, NASA relied on the reflection of the sun on the ocean to measure plankton level from the satellite. However, this Lidar-based system is able to see vegetation any time even through some light clouds, without depending on outside light source.
“CALIOP was a game-changer in our thinking about ocean remote sensing from space,” said Chris Hostetler, a research scientist at Langley. “We were able to study the workings of the high-latitude ocean ecosystem during times of year when we were previously completely blind.”
— NASA (@NASA) December 21, 2016
Since 2006, scientists have been studying the variations in plankton with CALIOP. “The take home message is that if we want to understand the biological food web and production of the polar systems as a whole, we have to focus both on changes in ice cover and changes in the ecosystems that regulate this delicate balance between predators and prey,” said Michael Behrenfeld, a marine plankton expert at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Researchers are now testing new Lidar technology that would let them better monitor how phytoplankton are distributed through the sunlit layer of the ocean. This will enhance the knowledge of phytoplankton concentrations as well as photosynthesis and will disclose more about the causes of phytoplankton blooms.