In early November 2020, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off New England were stained with swirls of green and turquoise. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Aqua satellite captured a true-color image of the broad bloom of phytoplankton on November 10.
Phytoplankton are microscopic plant-like organisms that live in watery environments year-round. When conditions are right – favorable water temperature, enough sunlight, plentiful nutrients – the tiny organisms begin to reproduce explosively creating large floating “blooms” that can be easily seen from space.
The bloom in this image covers almost all visible ocean, with brightest areas in open ocean over the edges of the continental shelf and in a few near-shore spots. The unique physical characteristics of the Northeastern US continental shelf make it one of the most productive shelf systems in the world. Abundant phytoplankton, which forms the base of the marine food web, helps support a rich fishery in this region as well. The largest blooms are typically seen in springtime off the New England coast. A second burst of bloom can be expected in October to November.