An intensely beautiful bloom of phytoplankton stretched hundred of kilometers across the Bering Sea in late September, 2014. This true-color image was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite on September 26, 2014. The bloom fills most of the visible open ocean east of Nunivak Island, Alaska.
Phytoplankton are tiny, chlorophyll-containing, plant-like organisms. They use photosynthesis to turn sunlight into chemical energy, and use up carbon dioxide while releasing oxygen. The growth of phytoplankton depends on a balance of nutrients, sunlight, carbon dioxide and water temperature. When all conditions are optimal, the phytoplankton that lives year round in the Bearing Sea can exhibit phenomenal growth rates, creating huge blooms, like this one.
Blooms are common in the Bering Sea, although fall blooms are not as common as the more reliable spring bloom. Although individual organisms may live only days, the bloom captured in this image has persisted through the month of September. To view an image captured earlier in the month, including an astronaut’s view of the bloom, see NASA Earth Observatory’s Natural Hazard image captured on September 4. That story can be found here: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=84361 .