Bering Sea in Bloom
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Bering Sea in Bloom

September 3, 2014
Jewel-toned colors stained the Bering Sea in late August, 2014, clearly illustrating the intense summer phytoplankton bloom continued through August, 2014. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on August 21.

Under thin cloudy streaks and between bright white banks of cloud, the bright stain spread hundreds of kilometers across the Bering Sea southwest of Alaska. The colors are caused by phytoplankton – tiny, plant-like marine organisms that live in the waters year-round. When nutrients, water temperatures and sunlight are right, phytoplankton reproduce explosively, often resulting in massive blooms which can be easily seen from space.

Like terrestrial plants, phytoplankton convert sunlight to energy via chlorophyll, and it is the chlorophyll-containing pigment that gives a green color to the bloom. One type of phytoplankton, called coccolithophores, contains calcite, a white-colored, reflective material. When present, coccolithophores often impart a milky coloration to a bloom, as can be seen in this image.

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

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