May 8 (UPI) -- Spring has arrived in the North Sea, as revealed by new images of phytoplankton blooms.
As winter gives way to spring, and more of the sun reaches the waters closer to the poles, warmth and solar energy fuel the growth of phytoplankton colonies.
Phytoplankton blooms feature billions of the microscopic organisms, which turn sunlight and CO2 into sugars and oxygen. They anchor rich marine ecosystems, providing sustenance to zooplankton, shellfish and other creatures at the bottom of the food chain.
Over the weekend, NASA's Landsat 8 and its Operational Land Imager photographed a phytoplankton bloom underway in the North Sea. NASA's Aqua satellite and its MODIS instrument, short for Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, also imaged the bloom.
In addition to sunlight, phytoplankton blooms also require nutrients. In spring and early summer, melting glaciers provide the waters of the North Sea with nutrient-rich runoff. Seasonal winds encourage mixing of the water column, churning up additional nutrients, feeding phytoplankton blooms.
Phytoplankton blooms are regularly spotted by Earth-observing space satellites. They turn the dark blue waters of the ocean a milky blue-green as the microorganisms proliferate.
Like microbial communities elsewhere, phytoplankton blooms host a variety of different types of microorganisms. As Earth's oceans become more acidic, scientists believe the altered chemistry will impact the makeup of phytoplankton blooms.