Phytoplankton bloom in the Barents Sea
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Phytoplankton bloom in the Barents Sea

September 16, 2011
A break in the clouds allowed a clear view of a spectacular phytoplankton bloom which has colored the Barents Sea since mid-August. The Moderate Resolution Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on September 10, 2011.

From space, the bloom appeared to be fading on September 9, when the colors were dulled and the area covered by the bloom had significantly contracted. But by the next day, when this image was captured, the phytoplankton were once again in full bloom, brightly reflecting light across much of the Barents Sea.

Although each of the microscopic organisms in a bloom lives no more than a few days, a vigorous bloom can continue for many weeks. As the water conditions become less favorable for the growth of phytoplankton – or the voracious organisms deplete the available nutrients - the number of phytoplankton in the sea drops, and the colorful blooms fade away.

In summertime, the Barents Sea experiences long hours of sunlight, warming waters and high nutrient loads, allowing booming growth of phytoplankton. The population of zooplankton also booms, as they graze on the rich load of phytoplankton. The high density of phytoplankton, zooplankton and plankton-eating fish forms the basis of a rich marine food web, and a profitable fishery.

As fall approaches, the light fades until darkness covers the region during most of the day, broken only by the “midnight sun”. In September, the long days of summer begin to fade, and with the fading sun and cooling waters, the phytoplankton bloom can be expected to diminish.

Credits: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

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