Minimize Colourful and plankton-full Patagonian waters

Late spring and summer weather brings blooms of colour to the Atlantic Ocean off of South America, at least from a satellite view.

The Patagonian Shelf Break is a biologically rich patch of ocean where airborne dust from the land, iron-rich currents from the south, and upwelling currents from the depths provide a bounty of nutrients for the grass of the sea-phytoplankton. In turn, those floating sunlight harvesters become food for some of the richest fisheries in the world.

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP captured this view of phytoplankton-rich waters off of Argentina on 02 December 2014. Scientists in NASA's Ocean Color Group used three wavelengths (671, 551, and 443 nanometers) of visible and near-infrared light to highlight different plankton communities in the water. Bands of colour not only reveal the location of plankton, but also the dynamic eddies and currents that carry them.

The aquamarine stripes and swirls are likely coccolithophores, a type of phytoplankton with microscopic calcite shells that can give water a chalky colour. The various shades of green are probably a mix of diatoms, dinoflagellates, and other species. Previous ship-based studies of the region have shown that Emiliania huxleyi coccolithophores and Prorocentrum sp. dinoflagellates tend to dominate. Scientists are working to identify types of phytoplankton from satellites images; hyperspectral imagers planned for future satellite missions should make that easier.

View the full resolution image.

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Patagonian Shelf


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