To assist with the standardization of SeaBASS data files, the SIMBIOS Project developed feedback software, named FCHECK, to evaluate the format of submitted data files. Since then, it has been rebuilt from the ground up by the SeaBASS development team to make it available to the end-users. There are multiple ways to access this software, as explained further below. Using FCHECK, contributors may evaluate the format of their SeaBASS-compatible files prior to submission.
FCHECK scans files for common syntax problems, missing header information, data values outside of typical ranges, nonstandard field names or units, and also detects various other issues. It will report a summary of the types of problems detected (if any) among all the files it scanned, as well as a more detailed breakdown of issues found in each individual file. Problems are classified as either errors or warnings, depending on their severity. Errors are critical problems that must be addressed before files can be archived. Warnings should be fixed if possible, but some of them are subjective or optional and may be disregarded.

Standardized Fields and Units

Below is a table of the standard field names and associated units for use in submitting data to the SeaBASS bio-optical archive. The field names are not case sensitive. Use the search bar or the find function in your browser to search the table for words or patterns found in the field names, units or descriptions. Please contact SeaBASS staff if you want to discuss adding new fields.


Special notes regarding wavelength-specific measurements: There are two different ways to indicate wavelengths (nm) in a SeaBASS file. If metadata such as date, location, or depth vary within the data, then append the wavelength number to the field name for every measurement combination. For example, downwelling irradiance ('Ed') measured at 412.3 nm is 'Ed412.3' (listed as separate columns alongside other Ed measurements, like Ed416.2, Ed419, etc.) Alternately, if date, location, and depth are assumed to be approximately constant for all measurements in the file, then use the field 'wavelength' to provide a column of the measured wavelengths and don't include them as part of the field names (this pivoted layout is commonly used for reporting spectrophotometric measurements or other measurements that use the data_type=scan keyword).


Two additional tables are provided below (Field Name Suffixes & Modifiers). The reusable naming conventions in those tables are used to create new field names without having to add dozens or hundreds of variations to the Table of Field Names and Units. For example, "_sd" (for standard deviation) appears in the table of suffixes and may be appended to any existing SeaBASS field name (e.g., "chl_sd" or "Rrs510_sd".) Similarly, field-specific names can be created ad infinitum using _bincount (i.e., number of averaged samples), and _quality. The table of modifiers allows extra information to be part of field names, typically to indicate versions of measurements that are either more specific or modified. For example, modifiers are used to denote size-fractionated measurements (see _#umfilt and _#umprefilt), specific excitation or emission wavelengths, or polarized measurements. Field names may be constructing by combing entries from multiple tables, with any applicable wavelength first, followed by "Modifiers", followed by a "Suffix".


Notes on HPLC pigment field names

Data Submission Special Requirements

When preparing a submission, check to see if the data type is in the list below. Certain types of SeaBASS data submissions have special requirements. For example, some data files need conditionally required metadata headers, and some submissions require extra "checklist" documents. These requirements and several examples are listed below, sorted by data types. This list is growing and evolving and more data types will be added in the future.


Check if your submission type lists any required extra documents. These checklists are designed to standardize and preserve critical methods and analysis details that are needed for intercomparison, reprocessing, to make it easier for data users to assess the data quality and to consider them for satellite validation or inclusion in algorithm development datasets. We prefer you submit a plain text (.txt) document, but if multiple format versions are offered (e.g., rich text and plain text), pick your preference and fill out the necessary sections. Rename the file in a relevant way to make it unique (e.g., add the cruise name to the end of the file name), and add it to the other documents and calibration files that are part of your submission.


The special notes section for each data type highlights any necessary measurement-specific metadata (e.g., conditionally required headers), fields, or formatting.


This page also provides example submission sections containing model data files and documentation bundles to help you format different types of submissions. These files were picked from the archive or created to serve as references. Your files might look a bit different, but hopefully the examples are helpful as a starting place from which to further adapt or improve as needed.

Submission Instructions

This page provides instructions on how to submit data to SeaBASS as well as information about the SeaBASS File Format. If you are new to this process, please scroll down the page to the "How to Submit" section and review the steps involved. More details can be found in the other sections on this page and beneath the other topics under "Contribute Data" found in the main menu of the SeaBASS website.
The SeaBASS data format and structure were designed with the following in mind: To account for the continuous growth of the bio-optical data set and the wide variety of supported data types, the NASA Ocean Biology Processing Group felt it essential to develop efficient data ingestion and storage techniques. While this requires a specific data file format, the data protocols were designed to be as straightforward and effortless as possible on the part of the contributor, while still offering a useful format for internal efforts. The system was intended to meet the following conditions: simple data format, easily expandable and flexible enough to accommodate large data sets; global portability across multiple computer platforms; and web accessible data holdings with sufficient security to limit access to authorized users.

Plankton and other Particles (IFCB, UVP)

The guidelines presented below will assist the user in submitting imaging-in-flow or submersible microscopic data to SeaBASS. New metadata headers and fieldnames have been developed for plankton and other particle data. Additionally, detailed instructions are given for submission of documentation (protocol document, checklist, etc.), images and additional ancillary files. The submitter must indicate in the checklist whether all ROIs in a sample were annotated. Greater detail regarding the development and application of these guidelines and requirements can be found in Neeley et al., In Press.

**Neeley, A., S. Beaulieu, C. Proctor, I. Cetinic, J. Futrelle, I. Ramos-Santos, H. Sosik, E. Devred, L. Karp-Boss, M. Picheral, N. Poulton, C. Roesler, and A. Shepherd. (2021) Standards and practices for reporting plankton and other particle observations from images. 38 pp. DOI:10.1575/1912/27377 

Documentation Guidelines

This page provides general SeaBASS documentation and guidelines, focusing primarily on how submissions should incorporate free-form information in external documents. SeaBASS submissions have two general types of metadata, 1) self-contained metadata, e.g., machine-readable metadata headers, and text comments and 2) external documents and calibration files. Note that these sorts of files are not expected to be in SeaBASS file format and thus don't get scanned with FCHECK.


1) Self-contained information within SeaBASS Data Files

  1. /documents (REQUIRED, a comma-separated list of the file name(s) of all external documentation)
  2. /calibration_files (REQUIRED, a comma-separated list of the file name(s) of all of external calibration files)
  3. Comments (OPTIONAL, free-form text information may be included in the header. Comment lines must start with an exclamation point. e.g., ! This is a comment. Comments are the only headers allowed to contain whitespace)

2) External Documents and Calibration Files (bundled together in a folder called "documents" for every cruise)

  1. Submitted documents should include written report(s) documenting all your methods
    • Explain all methods, including those related to deployment, sampling, and analysis. Important instrument settings and calibration information must also be retained for traceability. Standalone documentation should be organized into a "documents" directory that is part of your submission. In your data files, reference the relevant external files via the "/documents" metadata headers
    • Remember to list the names of these files in the /documents header
    • What file formats are preferred?

      • Plain text (.txt) or PDF (.pdf)

  2. Documents must also include Data Submission Special Requirements (mandatory checklists for certain types of submissions that need to be added to your submitted documents)
    • Consult the Data Submission Special Requirements page to see if it includes special guidelines for the types of measurements you wish to submit. The page includes required checklists, required special metadata headers, and example data files. Check back periodically, as new content is added to that page over time to include additional data types and other updates
    • These checklists are new to the community as of early 2020. The SeaBASS team welcomes feedback if you have suggestions for improving specific forms, and is interested to hear if you have requests for additional information or topics

    • Remember to list the names of these files in the /documents header
  3. Calibration files (if applicable) should be organized and submitted within the "documents" directory (organize subfolder(s) as needed)
    • Remember to list all these file names in the /calibration_files header
    • What file formats are allowed?
      • Calibration files and other special files should usually be uploaded in their native format



NASA's SeaBASS validation system obtains data from the AERONET Maritime Aerosol Network (AERONET-MAN) for use in satellite sensor validation match-up analyses. As described by Smirnov et al. (2009), AERONET MAN consists of aerosol optical depth (AOD or AOT) measurements from sun photometers mounted on ships. Please refer to the rest of the information in this article for details on how to acknowledge the use of AERONET-MAN data and how the OBPG processes these data.

readsb (Python)

SB_support.py is a Python module containing a set of classes designed to open, read, and manipulate data files that are in SeaBASS file format. While many of Python's built-in functions may be used to read SeaBASS files, this module leverages Python libraries and tools to efficiently read, sort, mask, and return the contained data for easy use without errors or significant intervention. Using this function, data outputs will be returned as data structures containing the file's header information (metadata) as an array of strings, the file's comments as an array of strings, the file's missing data, above detection limit, and below detection limit values (if present), the file's variable and unit lists as an Ordered Dictionary indexed by variable name, and the file's data as an Ordered Dictionary indexed by variabile name. Additionally, optional arguments flags that may be toggled are mask_missing, mask_above_detection_limit, and mask_below_detection_limit (all set true by default), which remove the relevant header-defined fill values, replacing them with NaN.

Who We Are

High quality in situ measurements are prerequisite for satellite data product validation, algorithm development, and many climate-related inquiries. As such, the NASA Ocean Biology Processing Group (OBPG) maintains a local repository of in situ oceanographic and atmospheric data to support their regular scientific analyses. The SeaWiFS Project originally developed this system, SeaBASS, to catalog radiometric and phytoplankton pigment data used their calibration and validation activities. To facilitate the assembly of a global data set, SeaBASS was expanded with oceanographic and atmospheric data collected by participants in the SIMBIOS Program, under NASA Research Announcements NRA-96 and NRA-99, which has aided considerably in minimizing spatial bias and maximizing data acquisition rates. Archived data include measurements of apparent and inherent optical propertiesphytoplankton pigment concentrations, and other related oceanographic and atmospheric data, such as water temperature, salinity, stimulated fluorescence, and aerosol optical thickness. Data are collected using a number of different instrument packages, such as profilers, buoys, and hand-held instruments, and manufacturers on a variety of platforms, including ships and moorings.

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions we often get asked.