Phytoplankton bloom off Iceland

Just off the coast of Iceland in early July, 2012, the Aqua satellite captured a delicately beautiful design created by the elements of Earth: ice, ocean, land, atmosphere and living things. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flying aboard Aqua acquired this stunning true-color image on July 9, 2012.


Lacy patterns of sea ice swirl across the deep blue waters of the Denmark Strait between Greenland (west) and Iceland (east). The tan land of Iceland is colored with brushstrokes of green, marking the spots where vegetation grows. The tops of the mountains remained capped with ice, even in mid-summer. Clouds curl across the south and southeast of the image, representing atmosphere.


In the center of the image, a bright palette of electric blue, glowing aqua, and earthy greens swirl around each other, creating a colorful ribbon that flows through the Denmark Strait and the North Atlantic Ocean. This swirling ribbon is made up of phytoplankton – microscopic, pigment-filled, photosynthetic organisms.


Each spring and summer, when nutrients, water temperature, and light are just right, phytoplankton begin to bloom in vast numbers in the swirling eddies of the North Atlantic Ocean. These organisms have the ability to store carbon and release oxygen, and form the basis of the marine food chain. Seen from space, they are also remarkably beautiful.


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


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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.


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Uploaded on July 10, 2012