A sophisticated new imaging system developed by the Naval Research Laboratory has been installed aboard the international space station, where it will scan coastal oceans and nearby land masses and beam the data to Earth.
The Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean, or HICO, is the first space-borne sensor created specifically for observing the coastal ocean and will allow scientists to better analyze human impacts and climate change effects on the world’s coastal regions. The applications include oil spills, plankton growth, harmful algal blooms, and sediment plumes from major rivers.
The HICO science data will be archived at Oregon State University, which will be the repository for distribution to researchers in the United States and internationally.
“The timing couldn’t be better,” said Curtiss O. Davis, an OSU oceanographer and project scientist. “The development of different Earth observation systems, for whatever reason, has stalled. All of the current NASA ocean color sensors are beyond the end of their planned lifetimes. At a time when observation and analysis of the world’s oceans is critical to monitor climate change, we were losing our ability to do so.”
What the HICO system will do, Davis said, is provide much higher resolution imaging and a full spectrum of color. Previous imaging systems had a resolution of about one kilometer and about nine spectral channels. HICO’s scale is at 90 meters and it has 90 spectral channels, which is “a tremendous leap forward,” he pointed out.
Davis explained, “In the ocean, we can separate phytoplankton blooms from sediment plumes from rivers, and better measure chlorophyll levels in the ocean, which are associated with phytoplankton production.”
Using the International Space Station for such observation is new. Its orbit is not “sun-synchronous” and thus the station platform offers a wide range of illumination angles and sampling times not available from current ocean color satellites. This makes the station an ideal platform for an experimental sensor like HICO, researchers say.
Davis, the Naval Research Laboratory and officials at the Office of Naval Research are finalizing plans so the U.S. and international science community can access HICO data via a web portal at OSU, hico.coas.oregonstate.edu.
“HICO can look anywhere, but its strength will be to monitor specific areas that are facing environmental pressures – such as the plume from the Mississippi River that creates a hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, or at harmful algal blooms off our own Pacific coast,” Davis said.
Aricle courtesy of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences 2010 Research Highlights