Earth  ID: 3709

Five Spheres - Biosphere

Satellite data can be used to monitor the health of the biosphere from space. This animation of seasonal changes to the biosphere is match framed to animation entries 3707, 3708, 3710, and 3711. The SeaWiFS instrument is carried aboard the satellite OrbView-2, providing important information about the oceans, the land, and the life within them. On land, the dark greens show where there is abundant vegetation and tans show relatively sparse plant cover. In the oceans, red, yellow, and green pixels show dense phytoplankton blooms, those regions of the ocean that are the most productive over time, while blues and purples show where there is very little of the microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton. For most of the world's oceans, the most important things that influence its color are phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are very small, single-celled plants, generally smaller than the size of a pinhead that contain a green pigment called chlorophyll. All plants (on land and in the ocean) use chlorophyll to capture energy from the sun and through the process known as photosynthesis convert water and carbon dioxide into new plant material and oxygen. Although microscopic, phytoplankton can bloom in such large numbers that they can change the color of the ocean to such a degree that we can measure that change from space. The basic principle behind the remote sensing of ocean color from space is this: the more phytoplankton in the water, the greener it is...the less phytoplankton, the bluer it is. For more information, visit

Visualization Credits

Lori Perkins (NASA/GSFC): Lead Animator
Ivy Flores (IRC/UMBC): Video Editor
Jennifer A. Shoemaker (UMBC): Producer
Gene Feldman (NASA/GSFC): Scientist
Norman Kuring (NASA/GSFC): Project Support
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, The SeaWiFS Project and GeoEye, Scientific Visualization Studio. NOTE: All SeaWiFS images and data presented on this web site are for research and educational use only. All commercial use of SeaWiFS data must be coordinated with GeoEye (NOTE: In January 2013, DigitalGlobe and GeoEye combined to become DigitalGlobe).

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Data Used:
Hipparcos/Telescope/Tycho 2 Catalogue
SeaStar/SeaWiFS/Global Biosphere
Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

This item is part of this series:
Know Your Earth

DLESE >> Biological oceanography
DLESE >> Biology
SVS >> Chlorophyll
DLESE >> Physical geography
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Biosphere
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Biosphere >> Ecological Dynamics >> Photosynthesis
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Land Surface >> Land Use/Land Cover >> Land Cover
SVS >> For Educators
SVS >> Food Supply
SVS >> Seasons >> Vegetation
NASA Science >> Earth

GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation: Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version