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NASA satellites detect 'glow' of plankton in black waters

wetlands and oceans, remote sensing technology measure the quantities of plankton. Scientists can then calculate how much nutrient might be needed to grow those amounts of plankton.

Hu and others used this technique to study the nature and origin of a dark plume event in the fall of 2003 near Charlotte Harbor, off the south Florida coast. Moderate concentrations of one of Florida's red tide species, were found from water samples.

"Our study traces the black water patches near the Florida Keys to some 200 kilometers (124 miles) away upstream," said Hu. "These results suggest that the delicate Florida Keys ecosystem is connected to what happens on land and in two remote rivers, the Peace and Caloosahatchee, as they drain into the ocean. Extreme climate conditions, such as abnormally high rainfall in spring and summer 2003, may accelerate such connections," he added.

These findings are based on scientific analyses of several things. Data used include satellite ocean color from MODIS and Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS), and wind data from NASA's QuikSCAT satellite. U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Florida's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, and other organizations provided rain, river discharge, and field survey information.

By knowing which way the winds blow and the currents flow, Hu and colleagues can predict where black water may move.

Red tides occur every year off Florida and are known to cause fish kills, coral stress and mortality, and skin and respiratory problems in humans. Previous studies show that prolonged "black water" patches cause water quality degradation and may cause coral death. The use of remote sensing satellites provides effective means for monitoring and predicting such events.

The link between coastal runoff and black water events is an example of how land and ocean ecosystems are linked together. "Coastal and land managers over
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Contact: Rob Gutro
rgutro@pop900.gsfc.nasa.gov
301-286-4044
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
31-Aug-2004


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