Offshore from Argentina, spring is in bloom. Massive patches of floating phytoplankton colored the ocean in November 2013. These microscopic, plant-like organisms are the primary producers of the ocean, harnessing sunlight to nourish themselves and to become food for everything from zooplankton to fish to whales.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image on November 26, 2013. The chalky blue swirls in the South Atlantic Ocean, as well as fainter streaks of yellow and green, are evidence of abundant growth of phytoplankton across hundreds of kilometers of the sea. These organisms contain pigments (such as chlorophyll) or minerals (calcium carbonate) that appear blue, green, white, or other colors depending on the species. The phytoplankton in this image are likely a blend of diatoms, dinoflagellates, and coccolithophores. Near the coast, the discoloration of the water could be phytoplankton or it might be sediment runoff from rivers.
Fish and squid aggregate in high concentrations at the shelfbreak because it is a very productive area for phytoplankton during austral spring and summer, said Marina Marrari, a biological oceanographer with Argentina’s Servicio de Hidrografia Naval (Hydrographic Service). Blooms of phytoplankton have been developing for several weeks, as shown in MODIS images from November 18 and November 9, 2013.
Iridescent shades of peacock blue and emerald green decorated the South Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Argentina on December 24, 2007. Though hundreds of kilometers in length, these bright bands of color were formed by miniscule objects—tiny surface-dwelling ocean plants known as phytoplankton.