NOAA's eyes in the sky count lobster population

NOAA's eyes in the sky count lobster population

Kent Hughes, program manager for NOAA's CoastWatch, says that ocean features give an indication of how lobster populations off the Maine coast are faring.

Satellite data helps scientists shadow the crustaceans' movement, proliferation in Penobscot Bay

By Frank Tiboni
GCN Staff

Scientists, fishermen and resource managers in Maine have turned to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites and computers to study the lobster population in the state's fertile Penobscot Bay ecosystem.

Sensors on NOAA's Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites 14 and 15 measure sea surface and coastal temperature patterns. The measurements show the spawning of lobster and the settling of larvae on the sea bottom, said Lee Dantzler, chief of the Oceanic Research and Application Division in NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS).

Lobsters have been at historically high levels over the past several years there, but scientists are concerned whether the population can sustain itself long term.

Dock of the bay

'Satellites offer a unique opportunity to observe how the Penobscot Bay interacts with the offshore Gulf of Maine and possible lobster brood-stock populations,' Dantzler said.

Lobsters like to live and spawn in cold waters. Sea surface temperature images can help infer optimal lobster habitats, he said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, a NOAA agency, assesses the size of the lobster population by the number of fishing boats in the waters and the prices fishermen receive at market, Dantzler said.

POES-14 and POES-15 each contain an Advanced Very-High-Resolution Radiometer from ITT Corp.

The sensors, with a resolution of approximately 1.1 kilometers, detect radiated energy from the visible and near infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum off the sea surface and calculate a temperature, said Kent Hughes, program manager for NOAA's CoastWatch.

A CoastWatch regional node in Narragansett, R.I., receives imagery from environmental satellites and provides high-resolution, near real-time color digital images to the public, Hughes said.

'State resource managers have never really had a good handle on predicting trends in our coastal fisheries, but through this project we are developing tools and techniques that can tell us whether lobster abundance is increasing or decreasing in the bay,' said Evan Richert, Maine State Planning Office director. 'It is a model we can use in other bays in the Gulf of Maine.'

After processing a sea surface temperature, POES-14 and POES-15 transfer the data at a rate of 2.66 Mbps to NOAA's Command and Data Acquisition Center at Wallops Island, Va. A Compaq Computer Corp. VAXstation there processes data, then relays it via a DomSat satellite broadcast from General Electric Co. to NOAA facilities in Suitland, Md., Hughes said.

Challenge PCs from SGI handle additional data processing, then forward the information via File Transfer Protocol to the Office of Satellite Data Processing and Distribution, also at Suitland. An Amdahl Corp. mainframe running MVS ESA produces the first sea surface temperature digital image, he said.

From here to there

OSDPD scientists then push the data, produced daily by NOAA, via the Internet to CoastWatch regional nodes where SGI Indigo PCs prepare the digital images for distribution to the public, Hughes said.

'The satellite information gives a regional picture of the circulating temperature patterns and coast temperature patterns so that we can look for a cause-and-effect relationship on how temperature controls the key points in the lifecycle of the lobster,' Dantzler said.

The study, in its third year, involves more than 20 scientists, managers and 120 lobstermen.

NESDIS has contributed more than $1.5 million to the effort, and in cooperation with CoastWatch and the State of Maine, the agency in September earmarked an additional $465,560 for another year.

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