Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that live in watery environments. When conditions are right, phytoplankton undergo explosive population growth, creating blooms visible from space. Such a bloom occurred in the North Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Newfoundland in early August 2010. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image on August 9, 2010. The paisley pattern of peacock blue owes its color to phytoplankton.
Phytoplankton thrive at high latitudes, especially in the spring and summer when abundant sunlight spurs photosynthesis, and relatively calm seas allow the tiny organisms to congregate in sunlit waters. Blooms can last for weeks even though an individual phytoplankton lifespan may be just a few days. To learn more, see the Earth Observatory fact sheet What are Phytoplankton?