On September 11, 2012 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this colorful image of phytoplankton blooming off the coast of South Australia.
Bright teal and turquoise swirls can be seen in Spencer Gulf (north), the Gulf of St. Vincent (southern gulf) and off the Australian coast. Further in the ocean, duller green patches are also faintly visible. These are all likely the result of rapidly growing phytoplankton – microscopic plant-like organisms that thrive in watery environments.
When conditions are right, phytoplankton can multiply explosively – a phenomenon known as a bloom. Because the organisms are pigmented, colonies are often brightly colored and create dramatic patterns when viewed from space. While a bloom may last for several weeks, each individual phytoplankton rarely lives more than a day.