Why This NASA Satellite is Studying Plankton

Science Friday - Did you know you can see plankton … from space? Earlier this year, NASA launched a satellite to do exactly that. It’s called PACE, which stands for Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, and ocean Ecosystem, and NASA hopes that the satellite can tell us more about how these tiny creatures interact with Earth’s atmosphere and influence our climate.Some species of plankton, called phytoplankton, are microscopic plants that absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. PACE has equipment that can identify different species of phytoplankton by the kind of light they give off, giving NASA real-time information about their location and population size, which can also aid fisheries and coastal communities when algal blooms occur.

During the spring and summer in the Barents Sea, north of Norway and Russia, blue and green blooms of phytoplankton are often visible. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image in 2021. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory