Tag: phytoplankton

Phyt O'Plankton

By Phil Plait | May 11, 2012 10:21 am

I’ve written about pictures from space of ocean-borne phytoplankton blooms (see Related Posts below), but I recently saw a new one:

This one was new to me for two reasons. For one, I hadn’t seen one such a bloom off the coast of Ireland before — the three I’ve posted previously were south of the Equator. You can see the coast of Mayo County in Ireland there on the right.

Second, it was from a satellite I’d never heard of: SPOT-5. This is a European Space Agency satellite that observes the Earth to improve our understanding of oceanography and climatology. It has 10-meter resolution, meaning it can spot objects roughly the size of a small house.

The picture above shows the Earth in natural color plus infrared; the parts that look red are land-based vegetation, which reflects IR light strongly. That’s why the Emerald Isle looks vermillion. Or at least orange and pink.

Phytoplankton blooms are interesting; they’re sensitive to climate change, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them. They also produce toxins that can poison the local life, and rob the water of oxygen, so observing them also helps local fishing and other sea-going ventures.

They’re also beautiful. And yet another reminder that what can be deadly here on Earth can be lovely from space. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but one that’s very common in nature.

Image credits: CNES/Spot Image/ESA


Related Posts:

An ear to the ocean
Stunning view of a bloom from space
Phytoplankton bloom

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures

Stunning view of a bloom from space

By Phil Plait | January 14, 2012 7:00 am

Almost exactly one year ago, I posted a beautiful picture of a phytoplankton bloom as seen from space. And here’s another one, and it’s way, way more spectacular!

Holy wow! [Click to enalgaenate.]

This shot of a bloom in the southern Atlantic Ocean was taken by the ESA’s Envirosat, which — duh — is designed to observe our environment. In this case, scientists keep a keen eye on phytoplankton blooms: while this bloom is breathtaking and gorgeous, many can be hazardous. Besides producing toxins that can harm sea life, they can also consume more oxygen in the water than usual, which is obviously tough on any life in the area. The color of the bloom can be found quickly using satellite imagery like this, and the algae species determined. Also, phytoplankton are sensitive to some climate changes, so observing them can act as a "canary in the coal mine" for climate change.

Sometimes, the best view of the Earth around us is from above. And sometimes that view is amazing, but a reminder that our ecosystem is a dynamic balance… and it’s best that we understand all the forces that can upset that equilibrium.

Tip o’ the petri dish to Alan Boyle on Google+. Image credit: ESA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Envisat, ESA, phytoplankton

Phytoplankton bloom

By Phil Plait | January 2, 2011 7:13 am

So yesterday I spent several hours rearranging my office and had a pile of other stuff to do, keeping me pretty busy throughout the day. So instead of some deeply insightful science post or lengthy discussion of skepticism, I’ll simply show you this beautiful image of a phytoplankton bloom off the coast of Patagonia:

[Click to unmicroorganismenate]

This was taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite, designed to study the Earth’s oceans. This isn’t really a true-color picture, since seven different colors were used to make it (though there is one available closer to natural colors). But it’s still pretty. And useful scientifically; blooms like this happen when there’s a confluence of various factors, like currents, nutrients, sunlight, and of course the plankton themselves, so scientists can use these blooms to study conditions in the water. And since about half the planet’s supply of oxygen is created by photosynthesis by these little guys, blooms are useful in a more basic way, too!

Image credit: Norman Kuring, NASA’s Ocean Color website

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Aqua, phytoplankton
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