Phytoplankton bloom from NASA’s Terra satellite

In late December 2011, where the South Atlantic meets the Southern Indian Ocean, off the coast of South Africa, a massive summer phytoplankton bloom colored the waters with a swirl of turquoise, green and white.

Although this circular bloom has the appearance of a precious antique gaming marble, it is actually the result of millions of tiny plant-like organisms (phytoplankton) which are growing where nutrient-rich waters mix together.

Each spring and summer, lengthening sunshine comes to the southern oceans, providing light to spur the growth of these microscopic plants. The lengthening light also melts sea ice, which can release additional nutrients into the sea. Blooms such as this one become a banquet for krill, fish and other marine species which survive in these cool waters.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite captured this true-color image on December 26, 2011 as it passed over the region.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team