Articles | Volume 9, issue 3
Research article
 | Highlight paper
02 May 2013
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 02 May 2013

MERIS-based ocean colour classification with the discrete Forel–Ule scale

M. R. Wernand, A. Hommersom, and H. J. van der Woerd

Abstract. Multispectral information from satellite borne ocean colour sensors is at present used to characterize natural waters via the retrieval of concentrations of the three dominant optical constituents; pigments of phytoplankton, non-algal particles and coloured dissolved organic matter. A limitation of this approach is that accurate retrieval of these constituents requires detailed local knowledge of the specific absorption and scattering properties. In addition, the retrieval algorithms generally use only a limited part of the collected spectral information. In this paper we present an additional new algorithm that has the merit of using the full spectral information in the visible domain to characterize natural waters in a simple and globally valid way. This Forel–Ule MERIS (FUME) algorithm converts the normalized multiband reflectance information into a discrete set of numbers using uniform colourimetric functions. The Forel–Ule (FU) scale is a sea colour comparator scale that has been developed to cover all possible natural sea colours, ranging from indigo blue (the open ocean) to brownish-green (coastal water) and even brown (humic-acid dominated) waters. Data using this scale have been collected since the late nineteenth century, and therefore, this algorithm creates the possibility to compare historic ocean colour data with present-day satellite ocean colour observations. The FUME algorithm was tested by transforming a number of MERIS satellite images into Forel–Ule colour index images and comparing in situ observed FU numbers with FU numbers modelled from in situ radiometer measurements. Similar patterns and FU numbers were observed when comparing MERIS ocean colour distribution maps with ground truth Forel–Ule observations. The FU numbers modelled from in situ radiometer measurements showed a good correlation with observed FU numbers (R2 = 0.81 when full spectra are used and R2 = 0.71 when MERIS bands are used).