Where do they live?

imageMost phytoplankton need both sunlight and nutrients from deep in the ocean. The ideal place for them is on the surface of the ocean in an area where plenty of cooler, nutrient-carrying water is upwelling from below. In contrast, the coccolithophores prefer to live on the surface in still, nutrient-poor water in mild temperatures.

Coccolithophores do not compete well with other phytoplankton. Yet unlike their cousins, coccolithophores do not need a constant influx of fresh food to live. They often thrive in areas where their competitors are starving. Typically, once they are in a region, they dominate and become more than 90 percent of the phytoplankton in the area.

Coccolithophores live mostly in subpolar regions. Some other places where blooms occur regularly are the northern coast of Australia and the waters surrounding Iceland. In the past two years, large blooms of coccolithophores have covered areas of the Bering Sea. This surprises many scientists since the Bering Sea is normally a nutrient-rich body of water.

The photograph at upper left shows the color of water containing a coccolithophore bloom. The scientists are using a very fine net to collect Emiliania huxleyi, a species of coccolithophore. (Photograph courtesy Patrick Holligan)

next: What do they do to the environment?
back: What is a Coccolithophore?

  pullquote

What is a Coccolithophore?
What is a Coccolithophore?
Where do they live?
What do they do to the environment?

Related Case Studies:
Changing Currents Color the Bering Sea a New Shade of Blue
Print this entire article