Get a Wif of this Harbor


To use satellite data to investigate the biological health of the ocean.


  • SeaWiFS and CZCS satellite images
  • SeaWiFS color scale



SeaWiFS Image Courtesy NASA

The Story 

You are a marine biologist--a scientist who studies life in the oceans. Today, you are working as a consultant to a petroleum company called COPCo. They have asked you to investigate the biological productivity of the ocean near six different harbors.

COPCo is trying to decide where to build three new oil terminals. They want to put one new terminal on each coast of the Un States--one on the Pacific Coast, one on the Gulf, and one at an Atlantic Coast port. But before they select the sites, they want to make sure that if an oil spill happens, it does little or no damage to the fishing industry in the area. One way to prevent damage to fish is to select sites for the new terminals where there isn't a very active fishing industry already.

This is a job for SeaWiFS!

SeaWIFS satellite

SeaWiFS is NASA's Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor. Its provides information on global ocean biological activity to the science community. Changes in ocean color on SeaWiFS images indicate types and quantities of marine phytoplankton (microscopic marine plants). In the open ocean, the more phytoplankton, the more fish, and the more fish the healthier the fishing industry. "But, near the shore, too much phytoplankton may mean that there isn't enough oxygen for fish to thrive. " (Dr. Mary Cleave, SeaWiFS Project Director)


Click on the map above. You will be taken to images of six harbors under study by COPCo. Your job is to evaluate the biological activity in the ocean outside of these six harbors.<body>

One at a time, examine the ocean around the mouth of each harbor and use the scale below to evaluate biological activity.

The scale goes from red--maximum chlorophyll, to violet--minimum chlorophyll. Black means that there is too little chlorophyll to measure.

(You can also go to the SeaWiFS site to examine phytoplankton anywhere in the world. Click here for a spectacular SeaWiFS image of phytoplankton around the world.)


Prepare an e-mail message to send to the other members of your team. Do not draw conclusions! Just state the facts. It will be up to the entire team to decide where to put the new terminal.

In the message, write your findings about biological activity of the ocean outside of these six harbors. Also rank the harbors in order from most to least healthy. (Remember that near the shore, too much phytoplankton may mean that there isn't enough oxygen to support a large number of fish.)

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