A summertime bloom filled the waters of the Great Australian Bight with swirling tones of green and blue in January 2013. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image as it passed over the region on January 6.
The swirling tones indicate rapid growth of the pigment-containing microscopic organisms known as phytoplankton. Derived from the Greek words phyto (plant) and plankton (made to wander or drift), these plant-like organisms live in watery environments. When conditions are right, phytoplankton populations can grow explosively, a phenomenon known as a bloom. Blooms in the ocean may cover hundreds of square kilometers and are easily visible in satellite images. A bloom may last several weeks, but the life span of any individual phytoplankton is rarely more than a few days.