In this natural-color image from August 31, 2010, the ocean’s canvas swirls with turquoise, teal, navy, and green, the abstract art of the natural world. The colors were painted by a massive phytoplankton bloom made up of millions of tiny, light-reflecting organisms growing in the sunlit surface waters of the Barents Sea. Such blooms peak every August in the Barents Sea.
The variations in color are caused by different species and concentrations of phytoplankton. The bright blue colors are probably from coccolithophores, a type of phytoplankton that is coated in a chalky shell that reflects light, turning the ocean a milky turquoise. Coccolithophores dominate the Barents Sea in August. Shades of green are likely from diatoms, another type of phytoplankton. Diatoms usually dominate the Barents Sea earlier in the year, giving way to coccolithophores in the late summer. However, field measurements of previous August blooms have also turned up high concentrations of diatoms.
The Barents Sea is a shallow sea sandwiched between the coastline of northern Russia and Scandinavia and the islands of Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, and Novaya Zemlya. Within the shallow basin, currents carrying warm, salty water from the Atlantic collide with currents carrying cold, fresher water from the Arctic. During the winter, strong winds drive the currents and mix the waters. When winter’s sea ice retreats and light returns in the spring, diatoms thrive, typically peaking in a large bloom in late May.
The shift between diatoms and coccolithophores occurs as the Barents Sea changes during the summer months. Throughout summer, perpetual light falls on the waters, gradually warming the surface. Eventually, the ocean stratifies into layers, with warm water sitting on top of cooler water. The diatoms deplete most of the nutrients in the surface waters and stop growing. Coccolithophores, on the other hand, do well in warm, nutrient-depleted water with a lot of light. In the Barents Sea, these conditions are strongest in August.
The shifting conditions and corresponding change in species lead to strikingly beautiful multicolored blooms such as this one. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this image.
Kuring, N. (2010, September 1). Barents Sea. NASA Ocean Color Web. Accessed September 3, 2010.
Lindsey, R. and Scott, M. (2010, July 13). What are phytoplankton? NASA Earth Observatory. Accessed September 3, 2010.
Photograph by Wild Wonders of Europe/Liodden, National Geographic
Lights illuminate Longyearbyen, one of the world’s northernmost towns, as dusk falls on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Located on Spitsbergen, Svalbard’s only populated island, the Arctic outpost has about 2,500 inhabitants.
I was visiting Longyearbyen, Svalbard, way up over the Arctic Circle, when I decided one clear night to go out and photograph the stars. After I made it to the location I’d chosen and had set up my exposure, the most beautiful aurora borealis show I’ve ever witnessed happened right overhead. The full moon at the time helped brighten up the foreground, creating this image.
Anytime Bill Gates, the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto and Syngenta get together on a common project, it’s worth digging a bit deeper behind the rocks on Spitsbergen. When we do we find some fascinating things.
The first notable point is who is sponsoring the doomsday seed vault. Here joining the Norwegians are, as noted, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the US agribusiness giant DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred, one of the world’s largest owners of patented genetically-modified (GMO) plant seeds and related agrichemicals; Syngenta, the Swiss-based major GMO seed and agrichemicals company through its Syngenta Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation, the private group who created the “gene revolution with over $100 million of seed money since the 1970’s; CGIAR, the global network created by the Rockefeller Foundation to promote its ideal of genetic purity through agriculture change.