Sulfur Upwelling off the African Coast

Sulfur Upwelling off the African Coast

Though these aquamarine clouds in the waters off the coast of northern Namibia may look like algae blooms, they are in fact clouds of sulfur produced by anaerobic bacteria on the ocean’s floor. This image of the sulfur-filled water was taken on April 24, 2002, by the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor (SeaWiFS), flying aboard the Orbview-2 satellite.

The anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that can live without oxygen) feed upon algae carcasses that exist in abundance on the ocean’s floor off of Namibia. As the bacteria ingest the algae husks, they produce hydrogen sulfide, which slowly builds up in the sea-floor sediments. Eventually, the hydrogen sulfide reaches the point where the sediment can no longer contain it, and it bubbles forth. When this poisonous chemical reaches the surface, it combines with the oxygen in the upper layers of the ocean to create clouds of pure sulfur. The sulfur causes the Namibian coast to smell like rotten eggs, and the hydrogen sulfide will often kill fish and drive lobsters away.

For more information, read: A Bloom By Any Other Name

A high-resolution (250 meters per pixel) image earlier on the 24th taken from the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) shows additional detail in the plumes.

Image courtesy the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE. MODIS image courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC