Monday, September 29, 2014

NASA LandSat-8: Phytoplankton green blue algae bloom near the Pribilof Islands

Phytoplankton bloom (green and blue swirls) near the Pribilof Islands off the coast of Alaska, in the Bering Sea. 

The turquoise waters are likely coloured by a type of phytoplankton called coccolithophores

This Sept. 22, 2014, image was created with Landsat 8 data.

Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Norman Kuring; USGS

The greens and blues of the ocean colour from NASA satellite data have provided new insights into how climate and ecosystem processes affect the growth cycles of phytoplankton (coccolithophores), microscopic aquatic plants important for fish populations and Earth’s carbon cycle.

At the bottom of the ocean’s food chain, phytoplankton account for roughly half of the net photosynthesis on Earth.

Their photosynthesis consumes carbon dioxide and plays a key role in transferring carbon from the atmosphere to the ocean.

Unlike the plant ecosystems on land, the amount of phytoplankton in the ocean is always followed closely by the abundance of organisms that eat phytoplankton, creating a perpetual dance between predators and prey.

This new analysis shows how tiny imbalances in this predator-prey relationship, caused by environmental variability, give rise to massive phytoplankton blooms, having huge impacts on ocean productivity, fisheries and carbon cycling.

The study was released Thursday, Sept. 25, in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“The continuous year-in and year-out measurements provided by NASA’s ocean color satellites have dramatically changed our understanding of phytoplankton dynamics on the Earth,” said Mike Behrenfeld, author of the study and phytoplankton ecologist at Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon.

“What we now see is a closely linked system of phytoplankton cell division and consumption lying at the heart of the plant’s annual cycle.”

Behrenfeld calls this close predator-prey relationship the “Dance of the Plankton.”

This view is different from previous perspectives that have simply focused on environmental resources used by phytoplankton to grow, such as nutrients and light.

The new view is important because it reveals that tiny imbalances can greatly impact Earth’s ecology.

More Information:
"Climate-mediated dance of the plankton" Author: Michael J. Behrenfeld - Nature Climate Change 4, 880–887 (2014) doi:10.1038/nclimate2349

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