On the Continuity of Quantifying Floating Algae of the Central West Atlantic Between MODIS and VIIRS

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Studying abundance and distributions of floating macroalgae such as pelagic Sargassum calls for long-term continuous and consistent observations from multiple satellite sensors. Previous studies mainly relied on observations from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS). As a follow-on sensor, the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) also has the appropriate spectral bands to detect and quantify floating macroalgae. Based on previous works on MODIS, this study presents an improved procedure to extract floating algae pixels from VIIRS Alternative Floating Algae Index (AFAI) imagery, with image filtering used to suppress noise and adjusted thresholds used to mask sun glint, clouds, and cloud shadows. The overall extraction accuracy is about 85%. Simultaneous daily observations from MODIS and VIIRS over the Central West Atlantic (CWA) show consistent spatial patterns, but VIIRS estimations of the algae coverage (in km2) are consistently lower than MODIS (around – 19% mean relative difference or MRD), possibly due to lower sensitivity of the VIIRS near-infrared (NIR) bands than the corresponding MODIS bands. Similarly, at monthly scale VIIRS also shows lower coverage than MODIS, and their difference (around – 29% MRD) is larger than the difference between MODIS-Aqua and MODIS-Terra estimates (around – 14% MRD). Despite these differences, the spatial and temporal patterns between VIIRS and MODIS observed algae distributions match very well at all spatial and temporal scales. These results suggest that VIIRS can provide continuous and consistent observations of floating algae distributions and abundance from MODIS as long as their differences are accounted for, thus assuring continuity in the future. Furthermore, once Sargassum biomass per unit Sargassum area is determined from field measurements, conversion of these area estimates to Sargassum biomass is straightforward.

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International Journal of Remote Sensing, v. 39, issue 12, p. 3852-3869