Boost for PML’s Earth Observation research

$1.25m boost for PML’s Earth Observation research

NASA/Unsplash 

PML is delighted to announce a grant of almost £1 million towards its world-leading Earth Observation research programme – PML’s largest ever award from a charitable foundation! The award will aid the further development of how data from satellites, orbiting the globe to scan the ocean surface and take measurements, and computer models can be used together to improve our understanding of how the ocean works and how it may be changing.

The $1.25 million (£933K) 5 year project is being funded through a grant from the US Simons Foundation as part of its Collaboration on Computational Biogeochemical Modeling of Marine Ecosystems (CBIOMES) programme. The PML project – Ocean Colour and Ocean Biogeochemistry – is designed to improve how the information from satellites can be applied to further develop computer models, which are used to predict future ocean conditions. In situ observations from autonomous buoys or shipboard measurements can only ever provide sparse and intermittent coverage: satellites can cover huge areas of ocean and repeat observations across the same areas. Satellites measure chlorophyll, while the models use measurements of carbon and nitrogen. Bringing these two sets of measurements together, and trying to interpret them so they can be converted from one to the other, is a main aim of the project. By comparing the satellite readings with those produced by computer models, identifying discrepancies and refining the kinds of calculations to be used and how they might be applied for both processes (algorithms), interpretations and predictions can be made with greater confidence.
 
A second research strand supported by the Simons Foundation award will look at ocean provinces, large areas of ocean that share similar physical and biogeochemical characteristics but differ from adjacent areas. These can be dictated by temperature, depth and currents, which in turn control the biology which stretches all the way to fisheries and human food security. Refining knowledge of where the province boundaries lay, how they vary throughout the year, and how they may be undergoing long-term changes, is essential to how we manage oceans for future sustainability. The wide coverage and sustained measurements brought by satellites will improve vastly our confidence in doing so.
 
Dr Shuba Sathyendranath, who is leading the project, is delighted to receive this prestigious award. “There are so many unanswered questions concerning how the ocean functions and what that means for us in the future. This award allows us to bring together even more closely the two powerful tools of computer models and satellite observations. Both disciplines will benefit from this research as the models will provide hints for improving the algorithms and sensors used by the satellites, and vice versa”, she said. “We are drawing on a huge range of expertise, and that in itself is exciting. We have remote sensors and modellers, of course, but we’ll also be working with mathematicians, statisticians, biologists, experimentalists and astronomers – a real eclectic mix of disciplines that bring fresh eyes and different perspectives.” 

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