In late March, 2014, the clouds parted off the snow-covered coast of Newfoundland to reveal a dramatic palette of teal, turquoise and greens in the chilly waters of the North Sea. Such brilliant colors mark a massive vernal phytoplankton bloom over the Grand Banks.
The Grand Banks are a group of shallow plateaus located 80 – 330 feet (24 – 101 m) under the sea southeast of Newfoundland. Here the warm Gulf Stream flows northward, passing and mixing with the southward-flowing Labrador Current. The mixing waters bring nutrients up from the ocean bottom, creating a rich, vibrant marine ecosystem which supports one of the richest fishing grounds in the world.
At the bottom of the marine food chain lies the microscopic plant-like creatures known as phytoplankton. These organisms live in this water year round in relatively low numbers. In spring, the retreat of sea ice, the lengthening light and the warming temperatures can spur fantastically exuberant reproduction, creating massive blooms which can be easily seen from space. Another bloom often occurs late in the summer, often in August. While each organism lives a short time, blooms can continue for many weeks.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on March 28, 2014.