The deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean were stained with swirls of milky turquoise in late summer, 2013. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on September 18, 2013 as it flew over the region.
The colors give evidence to a large bloom of phytoplankton, which are microscopic photosynthetic organisms that form the bottom of the marine food chain. These organisms live in the ocean year-round in low numbers, but when nutrients, light and temperature are balanced to optimal levels then colonies grow explosively, often forming blooms such as this that can be seen from space.
Phytoplankton thrive at high latitudes, especially in the spring and summer when abundant sunlight spurs photosynthesis and relatively calm seas allow the tiny organisms to congregate. Although the lifespan of an individual phytoplankton may be just a few days, blooms can last for weeks when conditions are favorable.
In this image, the coast of Newfoundland can be seen at the far left edge. A thin veil of haze, dust or smoke covers the image, especially to the west.