From space, variations in ocean color can be measured with
Ocean and land plants are green because of the
chlorophyll in plant cells. Chlorophyll-a absorbs mainly blue-violet and red and
reflects green; a second form of chlorophyll, chlorophyll-b, absorbs mainly blue and
orange and reflects yellow-green. Satellite instruments measure the amount of reflected
light of different wavelengths.
The amount of reflected light at different wavelengths allows
scientists to estimate the productivity of Earth's land masses and oceans.
We can therefore use ocean color to identify
regions of high primary production by measuring the amount of chlorophyll, the green
pigment in plants, with satellites.
Since the rest of the marine animals follow the
food, then by mapping the distribution of chlorophyll, we also map the distribution of
organisms in the sea, both plant and animal.
Using the map below and the one in your handout,
Let's examine of high primary productivity:
1. Coastal regions because of the very
high amounts of nutrients shed from the continents.
2. East side of ocean basins - coastal
upwelling is common here largely because of wind direction (from pole to equator) and the
cold eastern boundary currents weaken the density layering as a result of ocean
temperature allowing cold deep waters, with their reservoir of nutrients, to be
transported to the surface by upwelling.
3. Polar regions - cold waters in these areas
absorb high amounts of gas (CO2 and O2) both of which allow life to flourish.
Significant upwelling in these regions provides nutrients to the surface waters (once
again the cold nature of the surface layer allows deep water to easily mix upwards by
4. Equatorial regions - ocean waters diverge
(move away on both sides of equator related to the change in the direction of the coriolis
effect), nutrient-rich deep waters move upward to fill the void caused by the divergence
of surface waters.
Low Productivity (magenta
Notice how the regions of the main circular
current gyres (circular surface currents) are marked by low productivity and that these
regions occupy the vast majority of the ocean basins. These are regions of
downwelling, which removes nutrients from the surface waters and therefore severely limits
the amount of life in these regions of the ocean.
Nutrients, which ultimately
control the number of organisms in the sea, have many effects, including controlling the distribution of marine life