Each spring the waters east of Argentina burst forth in bright jewel-tone shades, turning the South Atlantic Ocean a magical palette when viewed from space. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite passed over the region on November 3, 2012 and captured this stunning true-color image.
Hundreds of kilometers of ocean are painted with the blue, green, teal and turquoise colors of phytoplankton in bloom. This event is so vast that very little unaffected ocean can be seen in the entire image.
Different types of phytoplankton reflect light differently, so a variety of colors suggest multiple species may be in bloom. Also, as the organisms rise close to the surface they reflect more light that those which float more deeply, so the darkest, duller hues suggest submerged colonies.
When conditions are right, phytoplankton, which are microscopic plant-like organisms which contain chlorophyll and other pigments, can undergo explosive growth creating huge blooms. In the springtime, the increased light provides warmth and energy to fuel growth. The Malvinas (Falkland) current which flows northward along Argentina’s continental shelf brings nutrients, and upwelling by currents and wind brings the nutrients near the surface, making conditions favorable for robust blooms.