Bowdoin’s Roesler Part of Billion Dollar NASA Mission to Observe the Ocean from Space

By Tom Porter

When NASA’s $964 million PACE satellite—short for plankton, aerosol, cloud, ocean ecosystem—launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket in the early hours of February 8, 2024 (forty-eight hours later than originally scheduled), it was the end of a long wait for oceanographer Collin Roesler.

Collin Roesler portrait shot from faculty page
Collin Roesler

“The achievement of PACE is that it brings the observing capabilities almost to what I can do in the lab. That’s really astounding,” she told the peer-reviewed academic journal Science.

Roesler, Bowdoin’s William R. Kenan Professor of Earth and Oceanographic Science, is among the experts involved in the project, which was launched nine years ago and has undergone its fair share of setbacks, according to Science, including “pandemic delays and four cancellation attempts by former President Donald Trump’s administration.”

Once in orbit, the satellite will use state-of-the-art imaging equipment to scan the earth, monitoring shifts in ocean plankton and other plant life.

“The ocean’s mix of plankton, algae, and bacteria absorbs vast amounts of carbon dioxide while producing 50 percent of Earth’s oxygen,” explains the article. “But for decades, Earth-observing satellites could not tease apart the many species making up the green goop,” we are told. This has hindered past efforts by researchers to explore how this mass of floating plant life affects the earth’s climate and, in turn, how climate change is affecting it.

NASA painting of PACE satellite in orbit
An artist's depiction of the PACE satellite in orbit. Image: NASA.

As well as collecting images of plant life, the PACE satellite will probe the haze of fine particles that gather above the ocean, which are also a major influence on the planet’s climate.

“We’re not going to be limited technologically anymore,” says Roesler. “We’re going to be limited by our ideas.” Read the Science article featuring Collin Roesler.