Skip to main content

Tiny Organisms Turn the Black Sea Turquoise in Amazing NASA Earth Photo

Phytoplankton swirl in the Black Sea
Phytoplankton swirl in the Black Sea in this image from NASA's Aqua satellite. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

Turquoise swirls in the Black Sea — caused by phytoplankton carried on local water currents — shine brightly in a new image from NASA's Aqua satellite.

Phytoplankton are tiny organisms that feed on sunlight and dissolved nutrients. The image shows the rivers Danube and Dnieper bringing these nutrients out to the Black Sea, where the phytoplankton feed on them, NASA officials said in a statement. In turn, these small organisms are eaten by larger animals such as fish and shellfish. [Earth from Space: More Amazing Photos]

In the Black Sea in particular, a type of phytoplankton community called coccolithophores are visible from afar because of the white calcium carbonate plates that shield their bodies, the statement said. The white is easily visible from space and appears like milk in the water. Diatoms, on the other hand — another type of phytoplankton found in the Black Sea — can make the water look somewhat darker.

In the statement, NASA said the reflectivity from phytoplankton in the Black Sea appears consistent with that of previous years. If the phytoplankton blooms are too large, this can lead to eutrophication, when oxygen is lost from the water and kills marine life.

Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a regular contributor to Live Science and Space.com, along with several other science publications. She is one of a handful of Canadian reporters who specializes in space reporting. Elizabeth has a Bachelor of Journalism, Science Concentration at Carleton University (Canada) and an M.Sc. Space Studies (distance) at the University of North Dakota. Elizabeth became a full-time freelancer after earning her M.Sc. in 2012. She reported on three space shuttle launches in person and once spent two weeks in an isolated Utah facility pretending to be a Martian.