Remote sensing retrievals of colored dissolved organic matter and dissolved organic carbon dynamics in North American estuaries and their margins

Fang Cao, Maria Tzortziou, Chuanmin Hu, Antonio Mannino, Cédric G. Fichot, Rossana Del Vecchio, Raymond G. Najjar, Michael Novak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Dissolved organic carbon, DOC, and the colored component of dissolved organic matter, CDOM, are key indicators of coastal water quality and biogeochemical state. Yet applications of space-based remote sensing to monitoring of CDOM variability across estuarine ecosystems and assessment of DOC exchanges along highly dynamic terrestrial-aquatic interfaces have been scarce, in part due to the coarse spatial resolution of most existing ocean color sensors and the seasonal and regional dependence of most existing algorithms. Here, we used a rich dataset of field observations to develop and validate new CDOM and DOC algorithms that are broadly applicable to different estuarine and coastal regions, over different seasons and a wide range of in-water conditions. Algorithms were applied to satellite imagery from MERIS-Envisat at a spatial resolution (300 m) that can resolve much of the spatial variability that characterizes estuaries and their margins. Multi-spectral remote sensing reflectance (Rrs) was used to retrieve CDOM absorption at various wavelengths and CDOM absorption spectral slope in the 275–295 nm spectral range (S275–295). DOC concentrations were obtained from a tight relationship between the DOC-specific CDOM absorption and S275–295, two optical quantities that depend only on the quality of CDOM and strongly covary across spatial and temporal scales. Algorithm evaluation using MERIS satellite data across different estuarine and coastal environments (i.e., the northern Gulf of Mexico, the Delaware Bay, the Chesapeake Bay estuary, and the Middle Atlantic Bight coastal waters) and across different seasons over multiple years resulted in relative errors (mean absolute percent difference; MAPD) of 29% (N = 17), 9.5% (N = 14), and 18% (N = 32), for aCDOM(300), S275–295, and DOC, respectively. These relative errors are comparable to those previously reported for satellite retrievals of CDOM and DOC products in less optically complex offshore waters. Application of these algorithms to multi-year MERIS satellite imagery over the Chesapeake Bay estuary allowed, for the first time, to capture the impact of tidal exchanges on carbon dynamics along wetland-estuary interfaces, and resolved spatial gradients, seasonal variability, and year-to-year changes in estuarine carbon amount and quality associated with marsh carbon export, riverine inputs, and extreme precipitation events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-165
Number of pages15
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Feb 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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