Images from the Landsat 5 satellite provided the research team with a new "window" into how giant kelp changes through time. The satellite was built in Santa Barbara County at what was then called the Santa Barbara Research Center and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base. It was designed to cover the globe every 16 days and has collected millions of images. Until recently these images were relatively expensive and their high cost limited their use in scientific research.
However, in 2009, the entire Landsat imagery library was made available to the public for the first time at no charge. "In the past, it was not feasible to make these longtime series, because each scene cost over $500," said Kyle C. Cavanaugh, first author and UCSB graduate student in marine science. "In the past, you were lucky to get a handful of images. Once these data were released for free, all of a sudden we could get hundreds and hundreds of pictures through time."
Giant kelp grows to lengths of over 100 feet and can grow up to 18 inches per day. Plants consist of bundles of ropelike fronds that extend from the bottom to the sea surface. Fronds live for four to six months, while individual plants live on average for two to three years. According to the article, "Giant kelp forms a dense floating canopy at the sea surface that is distinctive when viewed from above. Water absorbs almost all incoming near-infrared energy, so kelp canopy is easily differentiated using its near-infrared reflectance signal."
Cavanaugh explained that, thanks to the satellite images, his team was able to see how the biomass of giant kelp fluctuates within and among years at a regional level for the first time. "It varies an enormous amount," said Cavanaugh. "We know from scuba diver observations that individual kelp plants are fast-growing and short-lived, but these new data sh
|Contact: Gail Gallessich|
University of California - Santa Barbara