Category: Managing Water Quality and Precipitation Anomalies
Project Team: Caribbean Oceans
Team Location: NASA Ames Research Center – Mountain View, California
Dr. Juan Torres-Pérez (Bay Area Environmental Research Institute)
Chippie Kislik (Center Lead)
In the years 2011 and 2015, the nations of the Caribbean Sea were overwhelmed by the unprecedented quantity of Sargassum that washed ashore. This issue prompted international discussion to better understand the origins, distribution, and movement of Sargassum, a free-floating brown macro alga with ecological, environmental, and commercial importance. In the open ocean, Sargassum mats serve a vital ecological function. However, when large quantities appear onshore without warning, Sargassum threatens local tourist industries and near-shore ecosystems within the Caribbean. As part of the international response, this project investigated the proliferation of this seaweed within the Sargasso and Caribbean Seas from 2003-2015, and used NASA Earth observations to detect and model Sargassum growth across the region. The Caribbean Oceans team derived the Floating Algal Index (FAI) using Terra MODIS data, and compared the FAI to various oceanic variables to determine the ideal pelagic environment for Sargassum growth. The project also examined the annual spread of Sargassum throughout the region by using TerrSet’s Earth Trends Modeler. As part of the international effort to better understand the life cycle of Sargassum in the Caribbean, the results of this project will help local economies thrive and promote sustainable management practices.