Maps, Graphs, and Data

Energy and Matter: Super Blooms (2003-2006)

Super Blooms

Turbulent storms churn the ocean in winter, adding nutrients to sunlit waters near the surface. Each spring this gives rise to massive blooms of phytoplankton. These microscopic plants harvest vital energy from sunlight through photosynthesis. The natural pigments, called chlorophyll, allow phytoplankton to thrive in Earth's oceans and enable scientists to monitor blooms from space. Satellites reveal the location and abundance of phytoplankton by detecting the amount of chlorophyll present in coastal and open waters-the higher the concentration, the larger the bloom. Observations show blooms typically last until late spring or early summer, when nutrients become less available and predatory zooplankton start to graze. The visualization uses NASA SeaWiFS (Sea-Viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor) data to map blooms in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans from March 2003 to October 2006. Dark blue represents areas where there phytoplankton are scarce due to lack of nutrients. Greens and reds, on the other hand, indicate an abundance of phytoplankton, which often correlates with nutrient-rich areas. These can include coastal regions where cold water rises from the sea floor and near the mouths of rivers.

Credit: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio