Marine Science Faculty Publications

A Novel Ocean Color Index to Detect Floating Algae in the Global Oceans

Document Type


Publication Date



Floating Algae Index (FAI), NDVI, EVI, Algal bloom, Enteromorpha prolifera, Sargassum spp, Porphyra yezoensis, Atmospheric correction, Remote sensing, Ocean color, Climate data record

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Various types of floating algae have been reported in open oceans and coastal waters, yet accurate and timely detection of these relatively small surface features using traditional satellite data and algorithms has been difficult or even impossible due to lack of spatial resolution, coverage, revisit frequency, or due to inherent algorithm limitations. Here, a simple ocean color index, namely the Floating Algae Index (FAI), is developed and used to detect floating algae in open ocean environments using the medium-resolution (250- and 500-m) data from operational MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) instruments. FAI is defined as the difference between reflectance at 859 nm (vegetation “red edge”) and a linear baseline between the red band (645 nm) and short-wave infrared band (1240 or 1640 nm). Through data comparison and model simulations, FAI has shown advantages over the traditional NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) or EVI (Enhanced Vegetation Index) because FAI is less sensitive to changes in environmental and observing conditions (aerosol type and thickness, solar/viewing geometry, and sun glint) and can “see” through thin clouds. The baseline subtraction method provides a simple yet effective means for atmospheric correction, through which floating algae can be easily recognized and delineated in various ocean waters, including the North Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Yellow Sea, and East China Sea. Because similar spectral bands are available on many existing and planned satellite sensors such as Landsat TM/ETM+ and VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite), the FAI concept is extendable to establish a long-term record of these ecologically important ocean plants.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Remote Sensing of Environment, v. 113, issue 10, p. 2118-2129