Joseph Salisbury

UNH’s Joseph Salisbury says the new Earth Venture Instrument being created for NASA through a $107.9 million grant to UNH will protect ocean ecosystems.

DURHAM — An associate research professor from the University of New Hampshire who is leading a $107.9 million mission for NASA says identifying and tracking harmful and nuisance organisms that live in the Gulf of Mexico will benefit people in that region.

Joseph Salisbury works at the Ocean Process Analysis Lab inside Morse Hall at UNH’s Durham campus. He has been collaborating with other scientists for years to propose a space-based instrument that can make observations of coastal waters to help protect ecosystem sustainability, improve resource management and enhance economic activity.

On Aug. 1, NASA announced Salisbury would lead the team overseeing the new Earth Venture Instrument (EVI) — the Geosynchronous Littoral Imaging and Monitoring Radiometer (GLIMR) — to be built by Raytheon and to be launched into space for a two-year mission.

“There’s a great need to understand the single cell plants in the ocean that are the base of the food chain for virtually all organisms,” Salisbury said last week. “There’s a whole bunch of different species. Some are harmful and some are very, very valuable to food chains. They support the fisheries of the United States and elsewhere.”

Salisbury said monitoring how these organisms operate over the course of their day has never been done before with a satellite. The scientists will use GLIMR to monitor the colors reflected from the ocean back to outer space.

Some of the more harmful organisms scientists are interested in include the algae Karenia brevis and Sargassum. Sargassum is a brown, stinky seaweed that threatens Florida’s beach rankings.

Salisbury said the researchers are also interested in tracking materials that come off the land and are dumped into the ocean through rivers.

“That’s really important to scientists because a lot of carbon that comes off the land, we don’t have a really good idea of what happens to it, and it can be a very important part of the global carbon cycle. We call it a land-ocean flux,” Salisbury said.

“Right now, there’s no satellites that can study that very well at all, but what we can do is we can look right at the mouth of the Mississippi River, train our imager on that and follow this during the course of the day or weeks,” Salisbury said.

GLIMR will be launched in the 2026-2027 timeframe, according to a press release issued by NASA.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters, says that in addition to better understanding coastal regions, the information GLIMR collects will help researchers develop advanced predictive tools for ecological and economic benefit.

“As part of NASA’s commitment to Earth Science, I am thrilled to include this instrument in our portfolio as we keep an eye on our ever-changing planet for the benefit of many,” Zurbuchen said in a statement.

NASA is currently also employing other instruments to study Earth’s environments from space.

According to the release, “the first two Earth Venture Instruments were launched in 2018 and are operational on the International Space Station. The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) is measuring the vertical structure of forests, canopy heights, and their changes — on a global scale — providing insights into how forests are affected by environmental change and human intervention. The ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) is measuring the temperature of plants — information that will improve understanding of how much water plants need and how they respond to stresses such as drought.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will be visiting UNH on Aug. 29 to celebrate the college’s newest contribution to NASA’s mission.