World Oceans Day

Phytoplankton Bloom off South West England. Acquired by MODIS on 12th June 2003. Data courtesy of NASA.

June 8th is World Oceans Day. This is an annual global celebration of the oceans, their importance and how they can be protected for the future.

The idea of a World Ocean Day was originally proposed by the Canadian Government at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. In December 2008 a resolution was passed by United Nations General Assembly which officially declared that June 8th would be World Oceans Day. The annual celebration is co-ordinated by the Ocean Project organisation, and is growing from strength to strength with over 100 countries having participated last year.

There is a different theme each year and for 2017 it’s “Our Oceans, Our Future”, with a focus on preventing plastic pollution of the ocean and cleaning marine litter.

Why The Oceans Are Important?

  • The oceans cover over 71% of the planet and account for 96% of the water on Earth.
  • Half of all the oxygen in the atmosphere is released by phytoplankton through photosynthesis. Phytoplankton blooms are of huge interest to us at Pixalytics as despite their miniscule size, in large enough quantities, phytoplankton can be seen from space.
  • They help regulate climate by absorbing around 25% of the CO2 human activities release into the atmosphere.
  • Between 50% and 80% of all life on the planet is found in the oceans.
  • Less than 10% of the oceans have been explored by humans. More people have stood on the moon than the deepest point of the oceans – the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean at around 11 km deep.
  • Fish accounted for about 17% of the global population’s intake of animal protein in 2013.

Why This Year’s Theme Is Important?

The pollution of the oceans by plastic is something which affects us all. From bags and containers washed up on beaches to the plastic filled garbage gyres that circulate within the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, human activity is polluting the oceans with plastic and waste. The United Nations believe that as many as 51 trillion particles of microplastic are in the oceans, which is a huge environmental problem.

Everyone will have seen images of dolphins, turtles or birds either eating or being trapped by plastic waste. However, recently Dr Richard Kirby – a friend of Pixalytics – was able to film plastic microfibre being eaten by plankton. As plankton are, in turn, eaten by many marine creatures, this is one example of how waste plastic is entering the food chain. The video can seen here on a BBC report.

Dr Kirby also runs the Secchi Disk project which is a citizen science project to study phytoplankton across the globe and receives data from every ocean.

Get Involved With World Oceans Day

The world oceans are critical to the health of the planet and us! They help regulate climate, generate most of the oxygen we breathe and provide a variety of food and sources of medicines. So everyone should want to help protect and conserve these natural environments. They are a number of ways you can get involved:

  • Participate: There are events planned all across the world. You can have a look here and see if any are close to you.
  • Look: The Ocean Project website has a fantastic set of resources available.
  • Think: Can you reduce your use, or reliance on plastic?
  • Promote: Talk about World Oceans Day, Oceans and their importance.

Evolution of Coastal Zones

Lost Lake Area of Louisiana, USA. Landsat 5 image from 1985 on left, Landsat 8 from 2015 on right. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

Lost Lake Area of Louisiana, USA. Landsat 5 image from 1985 on left, Landsat 8 from 2015 on right. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

Coastal zones are the place where the sea and the land meet, and they’ve played a massive role in the life of Pixalytics. From a personal standpoint we’re based, and live, in Plymouth on the south-west coast and anyone who saw the Dawlish railway tracks swinging in midair eighteen months ago will know how these areas can affect our transport links. In addition, Sam’s PhD was focussed on the ‘Remote Sensing of Suspend Sediment in the Humber Estuary’, and so Pixalytics has effectively been grown from a coastal zone!

Last week the BBC carried a report highlighting the erosion of the Louisiana coastal wetlands; in particular, it noted that more than an area the size of a football pitch was disappearing every hour. This statistic caught our attention, and our next steps were obvious! We downloaded two images of the Lafourche Bayou in Louisiana; the first was a Landsat 5 image acquired on the 31st August 1985, and the second was a Landsat 8 image acquired twenty years later on the 02nd August 2015.

Mouth of Atchafalya River, Louisiana, USA. Landsat 5 image on left from 1985, Landsat 8 image from 2015 on right. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

Mouth of Atchafalya River, Louisiana, USA. Landsat 5 image on left from 1985, Landsat 8 image from 2015 on right. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

The image at the top of the blog shows the area around the Lost Lake, in the bottom left hand corner, just off the coast of Louisiana; with the 1985 image on the left, and the 2015 image on the right. The loss of land, described in the BBC report, can be seen in the northern portion of the image with a lot more water visible. However, the image on the right shows the mouth of the Atchafalya River in Louisiana; again, the 1985 image is on the left. Coastal evolution is again clearly visible, but this time there are islands that have risen from the water.

Swamplands, like in Louisiana, aren’t the only coastal zones changing. In 2011, the United Nations Environmental Programme estimated that over the last 40 years Jamaica’s Negril beaches have experienced average beach erosion of between 0.5 m and 1 m per year. Another coastal zone in decline are mangroves and wetland forests; a 2007 report noted that the areal extent of mangrove forests had declined by between 35 % and 86 % over the last quarter half century (Duke et al. 2007).

Coastal zones have social, economic and environmental importance as they attract both human settlements and economic activity; however, they are also particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change and their evolution will have impacts on the human, flora and fauna populations of those areas. So when you’re next at the coast have a good look around; the view in front of you may never be seen again!

Springwatch and GEO-Business Update!

Exciting News! Pixalytics made its television debut last night on BBC2’s Springwatch programme as part of a feature on plankton. We were asked to put together a video from satellite imagery showing the progress of a phytoplankton bloom around European waters for this spring, and it was shown alongside an interview with Dr Richard Kirby who we partner with on the Secchi Disk project. The video looked great on the programme and it was fantastic to see it, and for us to be name checked! Who knows where this television stardom might lead ….

The first day of Geo-Business 2014 was excellent! The Coastal and Hydrographic session at the conference had a great attendance, and Sam’s presentation on using Satellite Altimetry to determine water height

Geo-Business 2014 Conference!

Geo-Business 2014 Conference!

was really well received; a number of people are already wanting more information on the product, something we’ll be following up over the next few days.

The conference had a number of other interesting presentations, starting with keynote address by Neil Ackroyd from Ordnance Survey. His concepts of ‘data in itself isn’t enough’ and ‘look to simplify, rather than complicate, data’ really struck a chord with Sam, as this fits with the goals of our company in terms of making remote sensing data available to everyone without the need for specialist knowledge.

A later presentation from Carla Filitoco gave a positive snapshot of the current Earth Observation market. She highlighted the expected annual growth of 7% in downstream activities by 2015, which is great for those of us working in the sector – we’re hoping to beat that growth target ourselves!

In addition there were some interesting workshops, and it was the chance to catch up with old colleagues, and to meet new ones. Tomorrow we’ve got a number of meetings set up with fellow attendee’s, and are looking forward to developing some longer term relationships.

GEO-Business 2014 has been a well organised and popular conference, supported by a good variety of exhibitors. This looks like it’s going to become a regular event, and we’ll definitely be back! Anyone who is at the conference today and wants to catch up, get in touch by twitter or LinkedIn, we’d love to see you.