Looking back on our planet from afar, we see a beautiful blue dot in the vast blackness of space. The Earth’s striking blue color can be attributed to the water that covers about 71% of our planet’s surface. Around 96% of Earth’s water is contained in the oceans, which are vital to life on our planet. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Earth contains more than 332 million cubic miles of ocean water—that’s more than 350 million trillion gallons (350,000,000,000,000,000,000)!
Today, on World Oceans Day, we join together globally to celebrate our planet’s oceans and help protect the oceans for future generations. The International Space Station provides a unique vantage point from which to observe and study our planet’s oceans. Below, learn about some of the ways the ISS National Lab is being utilized for research centered on our oceans.
Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean
The Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO), which operated on the ISS from 2009 until 2014, was the first space-based imaging spectrometer designed to study coastal regions, which are optically complex. HICO data has been used to study factors that contribute to the occurrence of harmful algal blooms (HABs)—a major contributing factor in the increasing recurrence of red tide in coastal regions around the world. Red tide occurs when harmful toxins are released into the water from rapid algae growth, causing the water to turn red. These toxins are detrimental to both humans and marine life. Hyperspectral optical measurements from HICO have allowed researchers to develop processes for harmful algal bloom detection, quantification, and classification that are more reliable.
An online web application developed by HySpeed Computing, the Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO) Image Processing System (IPS), has made it easier for researchers to analyze remote sensing data. HICO IPS plug-in algorithms allow researchers to use HICO data to analyze water quality in various coastal areas around the world. Read more about hyperspectral imaging from space and HICO IPS in this Upward feature.
The Multiple User System for Earth Sensing Platform
The Multiple User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES) platform, built and operated by Teledyne Brown Engineering and launched to the ISS on SpaceX CRS-11, hosts Earth-viewing instruments such as high resolution digital cameras and hyperspectral imagers that enable valuable Earth observation research. MUSES can be used for maritime domain awareness as well as detection and monitoring of coastal erosion, water pollution, and red tides. Researchers can also use MUSES for atmospheric investigations assessing weather patterns and climate change. Read more about MUSES in this ISS360 feature.
Cyclone Intensity Measurements from the ISS
The Cyclone Intensity Measurements from the ISS (CyMISS) project by Visidyne, Inc. is using the unique vantage point of the ISS National Lab to conduct research aimed at producing higher-accuracy measurements and predictions of tropical cyclones. Tropical cyclones cause an estimated 10,000 deaths and $26 billion in property damage worldwide each year. Improved measurements and predictions of tropical cyclone intensity and trajectory could help coastal communities better prepare for these devastating storms.
CyMISS researchers can use images of tropical storms taken from the ISS to make higher-accuracy measurements of the altitude of a storm’s eyewall clouds, the most intense area outside the storm’s eye. Such measurements could lead to improved predictions of a storm’s strength and path. Data from the CyMISS project may also help researchers better understand Earth’s changing climate. Read more about the CyMISS project in this Upward feature.