Press Release

NASA Project Will Offer Validation of Ocean-Color Satellite Imagery

By SpaceRef Editor
January 21, 2003
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HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. — Through a NASA Small Business Innovation Research
(SBIR) project sponsored by the Office of Technology Development and Transfer at Stennis
Space Center, Wet Labs Inc., Philomath, Ore., is developing a prototype of an instrument that
will help validate products produced from ocean-color satellite imagery – data that helps
researchers better understand and protect our home planet.


Ocean-color images obtained from instruments in space are used to assess the conditions
of the oceans, including pollution transport, water quality and fisheries yield — information
valuable to decision-makers. For decision-makers to rely on this information with confidence,
however, the remote sensing instruments and the products generated from their data must be
validated. The Earth Science Applications Directorate at Stennis Space Center, which conducts
remote sensing applications as part of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise, is known for its
validation of remote sensing data and instruments, made possible by their research and
engineering facilities and expertise.  


The Wet Labs product, Dolphin, will be a major advance in the development and
validation of ocean-color products. “A major hurdle in any ground-truthing exercise is to collect
sufficient and high quality field data at the time of satellite overpass,” said NASA’s Dr. Richard
Miller, chief scientist of the Directorate. “If you’re trying to relate what the satellite sees to what
is actually occurring in the ocean, you must collect data as close as possible to when the satellite
goes over. This is particularly important in the coastal environment because it is highly dynamic.


Many features quickly change with the tides, winds and river discharge.”
The amount of data obtained from traditional techniques to collect water samples by
lowering an instrument into the water from a boat at intervals is limited. The time to obtain these
measurements and move to a new sampling site may take several hours. The features observed
by the satellite instruments have often changed or moved. The Dolphin will contain a bio-optics
package towed on a vehicle behind a boat and will enable scientists to gather data over an area
much faster, greatly increasing the amount of measurements that can be compared to the ocean-
color images. As the Dolphin is towed through the water horizontally, it also rises and falls under
water, collecting data from an entire water column.


Scientists can also collect water from the Dolphin in the boat for analysis in the
laboratory and comparison with the measurements of the underwater sensors — a much-needed
yet uncommon feature in towed bio-optics packages — thereby calibrating the data collected by
its towed sensors.


Miller recently returned from a cruise off the coast of Narragansett, R.I., where the
prototype instrument underwent the second in a series of trials. “All elements of the package
worked extremely well,” said Miller. 


Once the Dolphin is complete, it will measure how light is absorbed, scattered and
weakened; chlorophyll fluorescence, which is an indicator of phytoplankton; and temperature,
depth and salinity. “We should be able to apply these data in the coastal environment where
applications can be developed to address a number of different coastal issues,” said Miller.
The Dolphin will be used to validate remote sensing results that will help scientists
measure marine conditions from satellite imagery. The Dolphin results will be important to the
validation of the products and applications of NASA’s ocean-color remote sensing instruments.


“This project with Wet Labs is a prime example of how the Earth Science Applications
Directorate works to develop strategic partnerships with private industry and NASA’s
technology programs,” said NASA’s Dr. David Powe, the head of the Directorate.
The SBIR Program goals are to stimulate U.S. technological innovation, use small
businesses to meet federal research and development needs, increase private-sector
commercialization of innovations derived from federal research and development, and foster and
encourage participation by socially disadvantaged businesses.


For more information about Stennis’ SBIR Program, contact Ray Bryant at the Office of
Technology Development and Transfer at (228) 688-1929 or visit

SpaceRef staff editor.