Saturday, January 14, 2012

Envisat captures image of a phytoplankton bloom

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Envisat satellite captured a stunningly gorgeous image of a phytoplankton bloom in the southern hemisphere.

This compressed version of the image is beautiful enough on its own, but is nothing compared to the full size image, which can be found here.

The image was taken on December 2nd and was just released by the ESA.  The location of the bloom was approximately 600 km east of the Falkland islands.  Blooms such as this happen frequently around the globe during spring and summer.  They are caused by an abundance of nutrients and minerals that have been dredged up from the deep ocean.  As the deep and shallow waters mix, the populations of varrying species of phytoplankton explode in responce.

Phytoplankton are vital to the health of both the oceans and the planet as a whole.  In the oceans they form the basis of most of the ocean's ecosystems.  They are also vital in oxygen production and CO2 sequestration, producing over half of the world's oxygen.

Phytoplankton is a collective term for a multitude of microorganisms that are photosynthetic.  Nearly all are exclusively autotrophs (produce their own food) but a few examples of mixotrophs exist (those that can be either autotrophs or hetertrophs).  They are composed of a mixture of a range of organisms, including, but not limited to, cyanobacteria, dinoflagellets, and a wide variety of algae.

Phytoplankton form the basis of nearly all the oceans food webs and, as such, are of vital importance for understanding the effects of human activity on the planet.  While this is a fully natural bloom, some blooms occur from fertilizer run off and can be devastating to the environment as certain species produce deadly toxins.  The 'red tide' is a famous example of the damage such blooms can wreck on an ecosystem.

Individual kinds of phytoplankton reflect light at slightly different wavelengths, giving each their own unique color (even if this color can not be resolved without certain instrumentation).  This gives the image the greens and blues and can be used to determine which organisms are at what densities in this image.  This information can then be used to tell what the environmental conditions at the site are, as different organisms require different conditions to flourish.  Such blooms give a wealth of information as to the condition and health of the world's oceans.

The Envisat satellite was created for the purpose of monitoring environmental processes from space, including the affects of human accelerated global climate change.  This image was taken with Envisat's MERIS (MEdium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer) instrument, a device that measures light reflected from the Earth and its oceans at a range of 390 to 1040 nm.  Envisat was launched in March of 2002.

With thanks to the ESA for the original story.
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1 comment:

Ahab said...

It's lovely. Downright psychadelic in its beauty. I clicked on the larger image, and it's even more breathtaking.