Satellite image shows massive phytoplankton bloom in the Celtic Sea

Spring has unveiled a breathtaking spectacle in the Celtic Sea, captivating scientists, photographers, and photo enthusiasts alike. NASA’s Aqua satellite captured a stunning natural-color image on May 10, showcasing vast swathes of light greens and blues rippling across the water’s surface. This mesmerizing display results from a phytoplankton bloom, a natural phenomenon where microscopic plant-like organisms experience a surge in growth.

Ideal conditions, including warming surface waters and increased sunlight, fueled the proliferation of these tiny marine marvels. Phytoplankton plays a critical role in ocean ecosystems, forming the base of the marine food web. From zooplankton to shellfish and finfish, a diverse range of aquatic life depends on it.

NASA writes that the “warming in the spring and early summer sets the stage for stunning blooms to occur in northern waters such as the Celtic Sea, North Sea, and Barents Sea.”

“Early in the season, when waters are well-mixed and nutrients are plentiful, blooms of diatoms tend to dominate. These phytoplankton, with their silica shells and ample chlorophyll, color the surface waters green. As the water warms and stratifies, conditions favor a type of phytoplankton called coccolithophores. Armored with plates of highly reflective calcium carbonate, they make surface waters appear a milky turquoise-blue.”

NASA Earth Observatory image by Michala Garrison, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview.

NASA further explains that, so far, determining which phytoplankton species are present in bloom has only been possible by analyzing water samples. But scientists might soon be able to detect the species from space! Enter NASA’s PACE satellite, launched in February 2024.

Equipped with the Ocean Color Instrument (OCI), PACE is a game-changer. It can detect hundreds of light wavelengths, potentially unlocking the mysteries of phytoplankton composition within blooms like the one captivating the Celtic Sea.

“We know the surface of Mars better than our ocean floors,” renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle told El Pais last year. It always crosses my mind when I see articles about incredible discoveries from our seas and oceans. So, personally, I’m happy to see NASA making efforts to discover more about life on our home planet.

[via Tech Times]

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