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Milky Blue Water Near Prince of Wales Island

Phytoplankton are more than just nature’s watercolors: They’re tiny ocean organisms that play a key role in Earth’s climate by removing heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. These tiny organisms live in the oceans, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, like plants on land. Earth’s oceans absorb about half of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which feeds phytoplankton.

This year, phytoplankton blooms popped up in the panhandle region of Alaska and along the coast of British Columbia slightly later in the year than the main blooms that tend to occur in May.

This image was acquired on July 21, 2018, by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on our Terra satellite and shows milky blue waters near Prince of Wales Island. The discoloration is thought to be caused by a bloom of non-toxic phytoplankton known as coccolithophores, specifically Emiliania huxleyi, which like warm, stratified, and low nutrient conditions.

This week, our Export Processes in the Ocean from Remote Sensing (EXPORTS) team is shipping out into the open ocean to study these important organisms, sailing 200 miles west from Seattle into the northeastern Pacific Ocean.

Read more about the image and learn more about the EXPORTS campaign here:

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