Brilliant, non-toxic bloom in Hood Canal

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features Hood Canal in the Puget Sound, where a turquoise algae bloom has emerged. The water color indicates the presence of microscopic, plant-like organisms called coccolithophores.

“When present in great numbers, coccolithophores can make even the darkest green or navy blue waters turn a bright blue; this is a result of their chalky calcium carbonate plates (coccoliths) that reflect light. Like most phytoplankton, coccolithophores float near the ocean surface and turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen,” explains NASA.

“In turn, they become food for the grazing zooplankton, shellfish, and finfish. Coccolithophores and other phytoplankton also play an important, but not fully understood, role in the global carbon cycle, taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and eventually sinking it to the bottom of the ocean.”

The latest coccolithophore bloom in Hood Canal was captured on August 21, 2022 by the Operational Land Imager-2 on Landsat 9.

“We didn’t see such a bloom last year, although we were all looking hard for it,” said Teri King, a marine water quality specialist at the University of Washington. 

“The later bloom this year might be an artifact from the spring conditions. We had an incredibly wet, cold spring and, biologically, things are delayed. For example, our clams are just spawning now when we normally see them spawn in May and June.”

The researchers have identified this year’s coccolithophore species as Emiliania huxleyi, which is the most common of these species. 

“E. huxleyi has a host of biotechnology uses because of its anti-parasitic, anti-tumor, antibiotic, and anti-fungal properties,” wrote King. “This species is not toxic, and does not harm fish, shellfish, or hinder any human recreation.”

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

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