A new satellite to be launched by NASA in 2022 will provide critical information on the impact of the changing climate on the oceans and aquatic life. The Pre-Aerosol Clouds and Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission will examine ocean phytoplankton as well as the effects of aerosols – small airborne particles – and clouds on the Earth’s climate.
Jeremy Werdell, project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland which developed and will manage the mission, explains its significance: “Knowing more about global phytoplankton community composition will help us understand how living marine resources respond to a changing climate. With PACE, we will learn more about the role of marine phytoplankton in the global carbon cycle.”
PACE will record the global ocean’s color to detect the extent of the phytoplankton biomass and its composition. Phytoplankton are the microscopic algae that live in the sunlight in the upper level of the oceans and produce at least half of the oxygen on earth. They are also the base of the food chain in the oceans.
Like plants, phytoplankton use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide to biomass. Since about one fourth of the world’s carbon dioxide produced by humans ends up in the oceans, dissolved in the water, this is a critical function for maintaining life on earth.
PACE’s camera will record the changing color of the oceans as a guide to overall ocean ecology and the global carbon cycle. Camera sensors will collect data in the ranges from ultraviolet to near infrared to provide more accurate information about biological and chemical properties of the ocean. Changing oceans colors are a guide to the overall health of the ocean ecosystem. They can also identify the presence of harmful algal blooms.
PACE will also measure aerosols – airborne particles of dust and smoke – and clouds to understand their flow through the atmosphere. Aerosols can scatter sunlight, changing the movement of energy in the atmosphere. They can also change the composition of clouds, affecting precipitation and rainfall patterns.
PACE continues the work of earlier NASA missions like SEAWiFS and MODIS in studying ocean ecology.