Hydrogen Sulfide Emissions along the Namibian Coast

Hydrogen Sulfide Emissions along the Namibian Coast

Hydrogen sulfide erupted along the coast of Namibia in mid-March 2010. Pale-hued waters along the shore hinted at gaseous rumblings as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite passed overhead and captured this true-color image on March 13, 2010. Although ocean water appears navy blue farther from shore, water along the coast ranges in color from peacock green to off-white. Ocean water wells up in this area along the continental shelf.

The milky surface waters that coincide with gaseous eruptions along Namabia’s coast have a low oxygen content. As reported in a 2009 study, the frequent hydrogen sulfide emissions in this area result form a combination of factors: ocean-current delivery of oxygen-poor water from the north, oxygen-depleting demands of biological and chemical processes in the local water column, and carbon-rich organic sediments under the water column.

Commercially important fish species have hatching grounds along the Namibian coast, and hydrogen sulfide eruptions can often kill large numbers of fish. In addition, the gas eruptions send a noxious rotten-egg smell inland. These events bring some benefits, however. Sea birds eat the fish carcasses, and humans can make meals of lobsters fleeing onshore to escape the oxygen-deprived waters.

Inland, this MODIS image shows the rippling sand dunes of the Namib Desert, which stretches for hundreds of kilometers along the southern African coast.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Michon Scott.

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