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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Phytoplankton Blooms

This is a spectacular view of a phytoplanton bloom in the South Atlantic. It was taken by the Envisat satellite on Dec. 2, 2011 [A Southern Summer Bloom].

These phytoplankton blooms usually consist of a single species of microorganism. The fact that they can be seen from space gives you an idea of just how abundant they are. The blooms in the oceans can be due to diatoms or algae but by far the most common large blooms are due to cyanobacteria.

Prochlorococcus sp. and Synechococcus sp. have the largest population sizes of any species on the planet. About 30% of all oxygen production on the planet is due to marine phytoplankton and these two species account for a significant proportion.

A third genus of cyanobacteria, Trichodesmium, is mostly found off the coast of Australia. In addition to producing oxygen by photosynthesis, it is responsible for a considerable proportion of nitrogen fixation in the oceans.

[Hat Tip: Bad Astronomy]


  1. The green streaks and swirls are the phytoplankton, right? What's the pale blue swirly stuff?

    1. At first I thought it might be bacteria incorporating arsenic into its DNA. But after clicking through quite a few links, I came to the webpage where the image originally came from. Apparently the colour has to do with the type and quantity of the phytoplankton.

      "In this Envisat image, acquired on 2 December 2011, a phytoplankton bloom swirls a figure-of-8 in the South Atlantic Ocean about 600 km east of the Falkland Islands. Different types and quantities of phytoplankton exhibit different colours, such as the blues and greens in this image."

  2. What an amazing sight.

    Whatever the pale blue swirly stuff is, the shape reminds me of a DNA double helix.