For National Marine Week 2017, Ben Taylor who works at Plymouth Marine Laboratory has blogged for us about his work. Prospect is the main trade union representing marine professionals – so if you work in the marine sector find out more about joining us here. Ben is also the chair of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory section of Prospect’s Natural Environment Research Council branch.
To the bemusement of my wife, I'm a marine scientist who never goes to sea. In fact, I'm a bit prone to seasickness unless things are pretty calm. That doesn't stop me loving the sea though, with all its life, its weather and its colours, and that's why I got into this work.
On the subject of the colour of the sea, that's what I do – I look at the ocean from satellites. In particular (though not exclusively) at its colour, which can tell you things from how much plankton and sediment is in the water to (sometimes) what species or size of plankton are present. I don't do much research myself (though sometimes I'm part of others' research); instead I'm part of a couple of data services providing satellite imagery to other scientists around the UK and Europe (and the world). Satellite imagery is very powerful in lots of fields, but sometimes hard to use, so it's important for scientists in other fields to have ready access to expertise on the subject, and that's us. It's a really interesting environment to work in and I love contributing to so much research on so many topics, most of it valuable for conservation or climate change proposes.
The image shows a bloom of coccolithophores off Brittany, with a smaller one off Cornwall. These tiny phytoplankton bloom in huge numbers every year and have chalk shells, which come loose when they die and turn the water milky white, clearly visible from space (in this case the new Ocean and Land Colour Instrument on board the European Space Agency's Sentinel-3a satellite, which launched in 2016). All of the UK's chalk hills are made up of the remains of these plankton, laid down over millions of years – in a few (hundred) million years, the bloom you're looking at will quite possibly be a very thin layer in a chalk hillside on a continent yet unborn!
Also visible are clouds and the reflection of the sun on the water, both of which cause difficulties for optical remote sensing.