Research > Satellite Oceanography (OceanSpace)

The research focus of this group is satellite applications to understanding the link between climate change, oceanography and the biological response in marine ecosystems.

Current research projects include:

  • Mapping of key environmental variables in space and time to improve our understanding of climate change impacts across the scale of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem
  • The role of mesoscale oceanographic variability in mass coral bleaching patterns and on seabirds
  • The movement and migration patterns of manta rays and links to ocean dynamics and productivity
  • The development of improved tools for comprehensive monitoring of water clarity and light availability in coral reef ecosystems
  • The implications of climate change for the oceanography of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem
  • Biological and oceanographic influences on whale shark abundance and feeding ecology

We work in close collaboration with the NASA Ocean Biology Processing Group (OBPG), the Australian Institute for Marine Science and Curtin University Remote Sensing and Satellite Research Group in developing the application of satellite ocean colour and thermal data to coral reef and coastal ecosystems. A current focus is the development of products to quantify the attenuation of photosynthetically available radiation though the water column to determine water clarity and light availability to coral reefs.

Understanding how global change translates into changes within ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef is critical to informing our response to climate change. Over the past three decades, coral reef ecosystems have experienced major impacts of our warming climate through successive episodes of mass bleaching and mortality. Western boundary currents such as the East Australia and Mozambique-Agulhas Currents are shifting in intensity and in temperature, with the changing physical and biological oceanographic patterns impacting fisheries and marine megafauna. Variability in the timing of stress, the physical conditions, as well as the communities and their resilience will drive significant differences from site to site and the ecological impacts and management responses required.

Currently, we have a modest understanding of the biophysical oceanography of these ecosystems and can explain broad phenomena associated with a changing climate. However, climate change impacts vary across the large expanse of the ecosystems, with impacts occurring on the meso– and local-scale. While we may understand the essential physics of the relevant processes, we need to observe the meso– and smaller-scale patterns in order define and model the physical and biological processes at the relevant spatio-temporal scales. Satellite remote sensing stands as the optimal tool to achieve this.

For more information about our group and our research please contact Dr. Scarla Weeks (

Summer sea surface temperature (SST) climatology

SST anomaly - summer 2006

Euphotic depth