An Oceanic and Atmospheric Potpourri

An Oceanic and Atmospheric Potpourri

Smoke, cloud wakes, and a phytoplankton bloom formed a mosaic of natural phenomena off the coast of central Chile in the closing days of October 2022. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this natural-color image showing all three features on October 31.

Smoke streamed west from a large wildland fire near the town of Agua Fría in Chile’s Central Valley. As of November 4, the fire had burned 3,600 hectares (14 square miles), according to Chile’s National Forest Corporation (CONAF).

Northwest of the fires, two clear streaks cut across banks of thin clouds. Each of these “cloud wakes” appear on the lee side of two small islands. Isla Alejandro Selkirk and Isla Robinson Crusoe are both volcanic islands that rise from an east-west submarine ridge. Poking up hundreds of meters from the ocean surface, the islands create obstacles to air flow, such that the wind blowing past them creates large wedges of cloud-free air, with the islands at the base.

Sandwiched between cloud wakes and smoke plumes, swirling light blue features mingle with the darker blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. The swirls are likely the result of large groups of floating phytoplankton, which are microscopic plant-like organisms. They live in these waters in small numbers year-round, but can reproduce rapidly to create blooms that are easily visible from space when they have adequate light, warm water temperatures, and plentiful nutrition.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. Story by Joanne Howl/MODIS Image of the Day, adapted for Earth Observatory by Adam Voiland.

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