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EarthWatch: Unusually Large Phytoplankton Bloom in the English Channel

Unusually clear skies and persistent, unseasonable heat may have set the stage for large and persistent blooms of phytoplankton in the waters around the United Kingdom. 

Credits

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/  

  • NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using  Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview:  https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146897/channeling-a-bloom 

  • Image of the Day story by Michael Carlowicz 

  • Adaptation to ViewSpace by Claire Blome, Margaret W. Carruthers, and Dani Player

  • Music from Music for Nonprofits 

Transcript

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Text, Earth Watch, Exploring the Blue Planet by Satellite. A snowy mountain range appears flat on the surface of the Earth below, as viewed from space, at the edge of a continent stretching to the horizon, under an arcing blue sky that quickly transitions to the black of space, revealing the curvature of the planet. Tiny satellites leave trails as they soar across the sky in various orbits. Unusually large phytoplankton bloom in the English Channel. A large swathe of water is colored turquoise between England and France. Earth Observatory. Earth Observatory dot NASA dot gov. Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, Terra Satellite. Text, The currents, eddies, and tides in the English Channel shape the pattern of phytoplankton blooms off the coast of the United Kingdom. 

Zooming in closer an image taken June 23, 2020. Text, This year, spring and early summer brought unusually clear skies and persistent, unseasonable heat to northwestern Europe. 

These conditions likely led to these particularly large and long-lasting blooms of phytoplankton. 

The milky, light-colored waters are likely filled with coccolithophores, which appear chalky white. 

These tiny, plant-like organisms usually peak in this region around the summer solstice. 

Greener waters may be rich with diatoms or suspended sediment. 

Phytoplankton play an important role in carbon cycling.
 
They take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and then carry it to the bottom of the ocean when they die.
 
As the oceans warm and become more acidic, it's important to monitor the abundance of phytoplankton.
 
Phytoplankton are a key part of the food web.
 
Changes to the abundance and distribution of these tiny, plant-like organisms could have long-term effects on the health and distribution of fish, marine mammals, and sea birds.
 
To learn more, go to Earth Observatory dot nasa dot gov.