Last update: October 16th, 2019 at 10:05 am
Brilliant jewel tones in the North Atlantic Ocean peeked between bright white clouds in early June 2016. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite captured this dramatic true-color image on June 3.
The swirls of turquoise, greens, and chalky blues outline the swirling waters between Iceland (northwest) and the Faroe Islands (southeast). The colors are created by massive numbers of tiny, plant-like organisms known as phytoplankton. Phytoplankton contain pigments and chlorophyll and, when abundant, the colors within each organism blend with many millions of others to create large, bright blooms which can easily be seen from space.
Phytoplankton live year-round in the oceans, but most of the year they exist in small numbers and are dispersed in ocean layers by vertical mixing, which is most intense in winter time in this region. When conditions are right, they begin to reproduce exponentially, creating extremely large populations known as “blooms”. Phytoplankton blooms in the North Atlantic Ocean occur in the spring and in the fall. The spring bloom is driven by many factors, including lengthening daylight. The increasing daylight warms the surface layers, leading to stratification of ocean waters. This means that the reproducing phytoplankton stay in surface waters, where satellites can more easily see the amazing colors.