Last update: October 17th, 2019 at 9:00 am
A twisting ribbon of brilliant blues and green floating in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Argentina marked the site of an intense spring phytoplankton bloom in March 2016. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite captured this true-color image on March 12 as it passed over the region.
The striking colors have been created by the profuse reproduction of tiny plants growing in the surface water. Called phytoplankton, these plants contain chlorophyll and other pigments. Individually the phytoplankton are invisible to the human eye, but when conditions are right they can reproduce in vast blooms that can easily be seen from space.
There are many types of phytoplankton, and more than one can be involved in a bloom. Each species may contain different pigments, and each may lend a slightly different tone to the surface waters. One type of phytoplankton, the coccolithophores, contain scales made up of a white, chalky material called calcium carbonate. As light reflects off of these scales, it lends a milky appearance to the bloom.