Marine Education Scientist Shares First NASA Images

NASA’s new Aquarius instrument has produced its first global map of the salinity of the ocean surface, according to an announcement from NASA last week, and the map has provided an early glimpse of the mission’s anticipated discoveries.

UMaine Senior Marine Education Scientist Annette deCharon was particularly excited to see the first image, which was released Thursday, Sept. 22. In addition to her work with UMaine, deCharon is the education and public outreach manager for NASA on the Aquarius project.

“We are thrilled to see this first image from Aquarius,” said deCharon, whose education and outreach work targets the public, students and science communicators. “Even at this early stage, it is clear that global salinity maps have great potential to help all of us better understand changes in the ocean, water cycle and climate.”

deCharon, who is based at UMaine School of Marine Science’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine, directs one of the national Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence (COSEE), known as COSEE-Ocean Systems, which is also based at UMaine.

In order to increase awareness and understanding of salinity, deCharon and her team have developed a website with information, including an interactive quiz, online data tools and suggested activities for students from elementary to high school. The Aquarius project website, including the new map, can be viewed at

Aquarius, which is aboard the SAC-D (Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas) observatory, is making NASA’s first space observations of ocean surface salinity variations – a key component of Earth’s climate, according to a NASA news release. Salinity changes are linked to the cycling of freshwater around the planet and influence ocean circulation.

“Measurements of the salt content of the upper ocean provide key data for understanding upper ocean circulation,” said Mary Jane Perry, UMaine professor of marine sciences. “We are lucky at UMaine to have a close link to the project through Annette.”

The new map, which shows a tapestry of salinity patterns, demonstrates Aquarius’ ability to detect large-scale salinity distribution features clearly and with sharp contrast. The map is a composite of the data since Aquarius became operational on Aug. 25. The mission was launched June 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

SAC-D is collaboration between NASA and Argentina’s space agency, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE).

The map shows several well-known ocean salinity features such as higher salinity in the subtropics; higher average salinity in the Atlantic Ocean compared to the Pacific and Indian oceans; and lower salinity in rainy belts near the equator, in the northernmost Pacific Ocean and elsewhere. These features are related to large-scale patterns of rainfall and evaporation over the ocean, river outflow and ocean circulation. Aquarius will monitor how these features change and study their link to climate and weather variations.

Before arriving at UMaine, deCharon worked as a mission planner for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and in public outreach on NASA’s TOPEX/Poseidon mission, the satellite that measured sea surface height during the 1997–98 El Niño event.

Contact: Annette deCharon, (207) 563-3146 ext. 298 or; Jessica Bloch, (207) 581-3777 or