ESF report: Remote Sensing of Shelf Sea Ecosystems - State of the Art and Perspectives

The Nansen Center contributes to the European Science Foundation (ESF) position paper “Remote Sensing of Shelf Sea Ecosystems - State of the Art and Perspectives”.

Leading scientist Lasse H. Pettersson was a nominated member of the ESF Marine Board working group writing the report.

The context for the report is the increasingly urgent requirement for regular monitoring of shelf sea ecosystems in order to meet international treaty obligations for protecting the health status of European coastal waters, allied with a recognition that the contribution of ocean colour remote sensing to this operational task has been slow to develop when compared with the benefits of other satellite oceanography techniques in monitoring physical ocean properties.

The report recognizes that the geographical diversity, the spatial and temporal scales of variability and the scientific complexity of pelagic ecosystems in Europe’s coastal and shelf seas make it essential that monitoring programmes should make use of both in situ and satellite-based measurements, integrated where appropriate with numerical models.

The Working Group identified a number of actions where scientific effort needs to be channeled if ocean colour remote sensing is to be used effectively to serve the needs of ecosystem monitoring, grouped into four main areas:

• Enhance the quantity and quality of the basic ecosystem parameters retrieved from optical measurements.
• Improve the methodology for applying satellite ocean colour products to operational ecosystem monitoring.
• Promote the availability of high quality climatologies and time-series of ecosystem properties.
• Ensure that future observational systems are scaled to meet the sampling requirements for monitoring rapidly changing ecosystems in shelf seas.

Each area is specifically addressed in the report.

The Working Group also recommends action on the following six issues to overcome organizational obstacles that currently hinder effective application of ocean colour data to shelf sea ecosystems:

1. Investment in fundamental scientific research on the bio-optics of ocean ecosystems should be considered as an essential element of further satellite ocean colour sensor development.
2. A quality oversight body is needed to set standards, establish measurement protocols, monitor experimental quality and promote best practice in all aspects of marine bio-optics, both in situ and remote sensing.
3. Collaboration should be promoted between the separate scientific communities of ocean optics and remote sensing, experimental ecosystem science, and numerical modelling.
4. Operational ocean colour satellite missions in Europe must include the fieldwork programmes needed for calibration and validation as an integral part of the mission’s ground segment.
5. Long-term continuity of data provision must be assured if ocean colour remote sensing is to be considered as a tool for monitoring shelf sea ecosystems, both operationally and scientifically.
6. There is a need to liberalise the data access policy for European satellite programmes in order to promote full exploitation of the investment in satellite infrastructure.

The full ESF Marine Board position paper no. 12 “Remote Sensing of Shelf Sea Ecosystems - State of the Art and Perspectives” is available at:

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