Stunning swirls of color peeked through melting ice above the Arctic Circle in early June 2021. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired a true-color image of a jewel-toned bloom of phytoplankton in the Chukchi Sea on June 8.
Phytoplankton are microscopic plant-like organisms that float in ocean waters year-round—even in dark, frigid Arctic water underneath winter’s sea ice. In the springtime, hours of sunlight begin to lengthen, and temperatures rise. Each spot of melted ice allows sunlight to pour onto the darkened ocean. When sunlight shines on the floating phytoplankton in these warming and nutrient-rich waters, it spurs explosive growth, leading to huge, colorful blooms that peak through the icy scenery. Spring blooms are common in the southern Chukchi Sea in June, often fading in late July.