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Dec 28, 2016 04:05 AM EST

NASA Shows Off Space Laser To Study The Ocean

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GoPro video shows Antarctica from a penguin's point of view

NASA has revealed one of its projects that is used to study the ocean. The Cloud-Aerosol LIdar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) can be found aboard the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) satellite.

Engadget reported that the CALIOP is used to measure plankton levels through clouds. Before, NASA was only able to measure plankton levels from satellites when it's sunny and the sun's reflection can be seen on the ocean.

This time, though, the Lidar-based system does not rely heavily on outside light sources. It can now see vegetation whether it is daytime or nighttime and even when it's cloudy.

Chris Hostetler, a Langley research scientist, described CALIOP as a "game-changer" when it came to ocean remote sensing from space. Researchers are now able to study the high-latitude ocean ecosystem at any time of the year.

Since 2006, researchers have used the CALIOP to study variations in plankton. According to Digital Trends, NASA scientists were able to make a new discovery about plankton.

It was noted that minor environmental changes in polar food webs play a major part in influencing the high and low cycles of phytoplankton. This information is important in understanding how key ocean ecosystems affect the Earth's climate.

Michael Behrenfeld, a marine plankton expert at Oregon State University in Corvallis, added that knowing what controls the phytoplankton cycles and how it may change in the future is important. If we understand the process, it would help us predict the implications these changes have on the different parts of the food web.

NASA continues to improve the lidar technology. It is expected that scientists can have a more accurate measurement of the distribution of plankton in the future. This information, as per the space agency, is "critical for understanding cycling of ocean carbon, and for determining and managing the health of global ocean ecosystems."
Meanwhile, it was previously reported that NASA has enlisted SpaceX to provide the launch services needed for its Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission. It is expected to happen five years from now.

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