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.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace