Dynamic Spring weather in North Atlantic waters
Physical oceanographers will sometimes point out that the ocean has weather and seasons, much like the atmosphere. Masses of water with different temperatures, salinities, and nutrient levels clash and mix like warm and cold fronts in the air. Different plant-like species-phytoplankton-bloom, spread, and die back with the different conditions. Ocean currents swirl in turbulent fronts and eddies-much like tornadoes and hurricanes, though far more productive than destructive.
Springtime in the North Atlantic Ocean is a time of great change, turbulence, and productivity. Increasing sunlight, nutrient runoff from land and upwelling from the deep, and changeable atmospheric weather all conspire to colour the ocean surface with interesting patterns. The composite image above shows the northwest Atlantic Ocean on 14 May 2015, with the New England and Canadian Maritimes in the background. The image was constructed from data acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor on the Suomi NPP satellite.
On the left side of the image, several circular patterns are traced out by the light green phytoplankton near the surface. These rings are likely eddies that have spun off of the Gulf Stream, which turns east toward Europe in this region. The underwater plateau known as Georges Bank is also made visible (indirectly) by the plankton. The Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream meet in this area, and the relatively shallow water promotes an abundant crop of phytoplankton, marine plants, shellfish, finfish, and marine mammals, all the way up the food chain. The bank is marked by bright swirls of color in the image.
Patches and swirls of phytoplankton continue to the north and east from the bank, indicating regions where there are significant nutrients near the surface and other water conditions that promote blooms. Though it is very difficult to identify the genus and species of phytoplankton from a satellite, researchers working from ships in the North Atlantic confirmed that at least some of the phytoplankton blooming in May were diatoms, including Guinardia delicatula.
View the full resolution image.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory