NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol Cloud Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission is to advance the assessment of ocean health by measuring the distribution of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton is a tiny plant/algae that sustains marine life. An important instrument used to accomplish this is the Ocean Color Instrument (OCI), which is a highly advanced spectrometer that will measure properties of light through parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. This allows for continuous light measurement at high resolution for ocean color data which can then be used in climate studies.
The OCI allows PACE to monitor the color of the ocean, which is determined by the interaction of sunlight with particles present in seawater. Phytoplankton being one of them. PACE is a very important Earth project with a mission to better understand how the ocean and atmosphere exchange carbon dioxide and to see the relationship between phytoplankton growth and air quality. Monitoring phytoplankton will help us understand the distribution and abundance of it globally to understand some of the complex systems that drive marine life. The above image was taken during OCI testing in the Optical Calibration Lab (OCL).