Space Shuttle Images of Coccolithophore Blooms

[click on the small pictures on this page to view them at full size]

Shown below are two space shuttle pictures of coccolithophore blooms, the first is from the North Atlantic and is of Emiliania huxleyi, the second is off the Namibian coast and may be of another coccolithophore species. The ethereal, pale blue swirls are as beautiful as a painting. What causes the bloom to form these delicate wisps, streamers and eddies? We aren't totally sure, but it is most likely a reflection of the underlying physical structure of the water. We know that surface ocean circulation contains many swirls and eddies with this sort of appearance, and the bloom and non-bloom (paler and darker) portions of the water are most likely differentiated by changes in temperature and stratification, and thereby different nutrient concentrations. Ehux may be blooming only in the more stratified (brighter) water, or perhaps the more nutrient-rich parts of the water.

Picture from the space shuttle of a coccolithophore bloom in the North Atlantic. (Photo from NASA).

Picture from the space shuttle of a patch of aquamarine water off the coast of Namibia. (Photo. from NASA). This was long thought to be a coccolithophore bloom (and has been labelled as such on this website), but recent work has shown, surprisingly, that it is more likely to be due to highly relfective microgranules of sulphur (Weeks et al (2002) Nature, 415:493).

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