It may look like a painting by Vincent van Gogh, yet this mass of swirling colors is really a satellite image depicting a huge bloom of phytoplankton, or microscopic marine plant life, in the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.
NASA acquired the image on Sept. 23 using its Suomi NPP weather satellite. The spacecraft is equipped with a special imaging tool known as the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which collects visible & infrared imagery.
To create this artful picture, NASA combined data from the red, green & blue infrared bands of VIIRS with additional data approximately the levels of chlorophyll (green pigments found in algae & plants) present in the North Atlantic Ocean. Like terrestrial plants, phytoplankton contain light-absorbing chlorophyll & need sunlight to live & grow. [Earth from Above: 101 Stunning Images from Orbit]
p> â€œThe image does a nicely job of showing the close link between ocean physics & biology,â€ Michael Behrenfeld, a phytoplankton ecologist at Oregon State University, said in a statement. â€œThe features that jump out so clearly represent the influence of ocean eddies & physical stirring on the concentration of phytoplankton pigments and, possibly, colored dissolved organic matter.â€
Phytoplankton blooms occur in the North Atlantic Ocean every fall, yet weather patterns during this time of year typically make the blooms complex to observe via satellite, according to NASA. It's more usual to collect images of this natural phenomenon in the springtime.
â€œA lot of what we donâ€™t know approximately ocean ecology has to do with the difficulty of sampling the ocean, whether it be from a storm-tossed ship or from a cloud-obstructed satellite,â€ said Norman Kuring, an ocean scientist at NASAâ€™s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Just a few weeks after this bloom's colors were recorded, researchers with NASAâ€™s North Atlantic Aerosols & Marine Ecosystems Study (NAAMES) traveled to this stretch of ocean to take measurements using ship- & aircraft-based tools. The information they gathered will be combined with satellite & ocean sensor data to learn more approximately phytoplankton blooms & their effect on the environment, which can be significant, according to Rich Moore, deputy project scientist for NAAMES & a researcher at NASAâ€™s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
As phytoplankton bloom, they release organic molecules into the surrounding seawater. These molecules can then be lifted into the air as sea spray, Moore said in a statement.
â€œThese biologically-driven aerosol influences have been detected as far away as coastal monitoring stations in Ireland,â€ Moore said. â€œHowever, we have much less information approximately what is going on out in middle of the ocean. NAAMES will attempt to fill this significant scientific gap by studying the link between the bloom, any changes in the overlying atmospheric aerosols & how these changes may then go on to affect clouds & regional climate.â€
The next NAAMES campaign will commence in May 2016, when the springtime phytoplankton bloom is in full effect, NASA said.
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