On June 8, 2014 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite passed above the North Sea and captured a true-color image of a continuing phytoplankton bloom. The swirling colors have been present in the deep blue waters since at least mid-May, and appear to be beginning to fade slightly from peak color a few weeks before.
Phytoplankton are tiny plant-like organisms that form the base of the marine food chain. They are present in the North Sea year round, but generally they survive in such low numbers they aren’t seen. When the correct nutrient levels combine with ideal water temperature and lengthening sunlight – such as in the spring and early summer – phytoplankton begin to grow explosively, creating vast blooms that can easily be seen from space. Although the blooms may last for weeks, each organism has a short life span, and lives only days.