NASA: Measuring Sea Surface Temperatures with Satellites

Surface temperatures of the Gulf Stream
Surface temperatures of the Gulf Stream about 500 kilometers (300 miles) east of Charleston, South Carolina.
Credits: NASA

With data from sensors such as the Thermal Infrared sensor (TIRS) on NASA's Landsat 8 satellite, experts can calculate sea surface temperatures without having to measure water temperatures on site. NASA's Landsat team has produced this image of the surface temperatures in the Gulf Stream based on data input by the infrared bands of TIRS.

“Infrared bands measure how much energy is emitted by the surface of the Earth at particular wavelengths,” said Matthew Montanaro, a researcher on NASA’s Landsat team. “We can calculate the surface temperature from these measurements through math and some modeling. Essentially, the higher the infrared signal measured, the higher temperature on the surface."

“For several locations around the world, however, there are floating buoys that can directly measure the sea temperature,” he added. “We can compare these buoy measurements with the TIRS image-derived temperatures and adjust our calibration to provide a more accurate temperature calculation for TIRS and other satellites.”