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Phytoplankton bloom off Newfoundland
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Phytoplankton bloom off Newfoundland

July 31, 2011
The waters off of the Newfoundland coast were colored with swirls of teal, turquoise and navy as millions of tiny, light-reflecting organisms bloomed in the cold waters off the coast of Newfoundland in late July, 2011. The organisms are called phytoplankton, and are photosynthesizing microscopic organisms that grow in sunlit ocean surface waters. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA's Aqua satellite captured this true-color image as it passed over the region on July 25, 2011.

The color variation in the swirls of the bloom is caused by different species and concentrations of phytoplankton within the bloom. The milky blue color is likely form coccolithophores, a type of phytoplankton that is coated in a chalky shell that reflects light.

Phytoplankton thrive at high latitudes, especially in the spring and summer when abundant sunlight spurs photosynthesis and relatively calm seas allow the tiny organisms to congregate. Although the lifespan of an individual phytoplankton may be just a few days, blooms can last for weeks when conditions are favorable.

In the lower left (southwest) section of the image, the ocean appears to be a silvery gray-blue. This coloration is not related to phytoplankton, but to sunglint. Sunglint occurs when the sun reflects off the surface of the ocean at the same angle that an instrument is viewing the surface.


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