National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Date of this Version



Remote Sensing of Environment 115 (2011) 3731–3747; doi:10.1016/j.rse.2011.09.011


Satellite imagery has proven to be a powerful tool for measuring chlorophyll a in surface waters. While this provides an estimate of total phytoplankton biomass, it does not distinguish between phytoplankton groups, many of which have functional differences and therefore affect biogeochemical cycles differently. Phytoplankton pigment analysis has been used to quantify a wide range of photosynthetic and accessory pigments, and chemotaxonomic analysis (e.g. CHEMTAX) has been used to successfully quantify functional taxonomic groups in nature based on pigment distributions. Here, we combine CHEMTAX analysis with satellite-derived distributions of specific phytoplankton pigments to describe the distributions of particular components of the phytoplankton community in the northeast coast of the United States from space. The spatial and seasonal variations in phytoplankton community structure elucidated through satellite remote sensing methods generally agreed with observations of abundance estimates of cell counts. Diatoms were generally the most abundant phytoplankton in this region, especially during Winter–Spring and in the inner shelf, but phytoplankton populations shifted to increasing abundance of other taxa during Summer, especially offshore. While still preliminary, satellite-derived taxa-specific information with proper regional controls holds promise for providing information on phytoplankton abundance to a taxonomic group level which would greatly improve our understanding of the impacts of human activity and climate change on ecosystems.