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Ocean Colour: Essential climate variables

In the context of the Copernicus programme, the JRC aims to develop and assessing Climate Data Records (CDR) derived from multiple satellite remote sensing missions. These CDRs are time series of Essential Climate Variables that are derived from...

Ocean colour remote sensing primarily aims to derive the spectrum of marine surface reflectance from satellite observations. In turn, marine reflectance can be used to determine inherent optical properties (absorption and back-scattering coefficients) and concentrations of optically significant constituents present in the upper layer of the ocean.

Among these is the concentration of chlorophyll-a, a photosynthetic pigment found in phytoplankton cells. Ocean colour remote sensing is thus the only satellite remote sensing technique that opens a window onto ocean biology.

Considering the various products that can be derived from marine reflectance data as well as the role of marine phytoplankton in the carbon cycle (responsible for approximately half of the Earth's total carbon fixation), the Global Climate Observation System lists both the spectrum of marine reflectance and the chlorophyll-a concentration as Essential Climate Variables (ECV).

In the context of the Copernicus programme, the JRC aims to maintain and develop a climate-quality database of ocean-colour-derived products from the suite of relevant satellite missions. This involves developing advanced climate data records, determining their uncertainties, and devising approaches to combine data from various missions, with the final objective of constructing and analysing a consistent data series that is suitable for climate research. Eventually, these climate data records can help to study the dynamics of the marine ecosystems or compute primary production with the JRC primary productivity model.


Mélin, F., and V. Vantrepotte: How optically diverse is the coastal ocean? Remote Sens. Environ., 160, 235-251, 10.1016/j.rse.2015.01.023, 2015.

Mélin, F. and B.A. Franz. Assessment of satellite ocean colour radiometry and derived geophysical products, in Optical Radiometry for Oceans Climate Measurements, chap. 6.1, G. Zibordi, C. Donlon, A. Parr, eds., Elsevier Physical Science Series, 609-638, 2014.

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Mélin, F., G. Zibordi, B.N. Holben: Assessment of the aerosol products from the SeaWiFS and MODIS ocean color missions. IEEE Geosci. Remote Sens. Lett., 10, 10.1109/LGRS.2012.2235408, 1185-1189, 2013.

Mélin, F., Zibordi, G., Berthon, J.-F., Bailey, S., Franz, B., Voss, K.J., Flora, S., Grant, M.: Assessment of MERIS reflectance data as processed by SeaDAS over the European Seas. Opt. Exp., 19, 25657-25671, 2011.

Mélin, F., Vantrepotte, V., Clerici, M., D’Alimonte, D., Zibordi, G., Berthon, J.-F., Canuti, E.: Multi-sensor satellite time series of optical properties and chlorophyll a concentration in the Adriatic Sea. Prog. Oceanogr., 91, 229-244, 2011.

Vantrepotte, V., Mélin, F. : Inter-annual variations in the SeaWiFS global chlorophyll a concentration (1997-2007). Deep-Sea Res., I, 58, 439-441, 2011.

Vantrepotte, V., Mélin, F.: Temporal variability on SeaWiFS derived apparent optical properties in European Sea. Cont. Shelf Res., 30, 319-334, 10.1016/j.csr.2009.11.012, 2010.

Djavidnia, S., Mélin, F., Hoepffner, N.: Comparison of global ocean colour data records. Ocean Sci., 6, 61-76, 2010.

Scientific tools and database

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Ocean Colour Portal

The Ocean Colour Portal facilitates the study of the optical properties of the oceans and the biology of marine ecosystems. The data covers aerosol description, apparent optical properties of ocean surfaces, concentrations of optically significant constituents, inherent optical properties and the photosynthetically available radiation.

Environmental Marine Information System (EMIS)

The marine geoportal EMIS provides users with an appropriate set of bio-physical information necessary to conduct water quality assessment, resource monitoring and climate change studies of coastal and marine European waters.

Global Marine Information System (GMIS)

The marine geoportal GMIS has been developed to facilitate access to analysis of satellite remote sensing data at the global scale.


Frédéric Mélin

Ocean Colour
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Ocean Colour

Ocean Colour Portal