Sparkle of the Sea
By Alison Hawkes
This just in from NASA’s Aqua satellite: a giant phytoplankton bloom in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Pakistan.
The green swirls are, of course, the phytoplankton, which are individually microscopic but combine in huge numbers to form algae blooms like this one. Blooms are common during monsoon season, when strong winds blow across the ocean towards land causing the upwelling of cold seabed water that’s chalk full of nutrients. The phytoplankton go to town, reproducing like crazy.
There’s some speculation now that algae blooms are happening more frequently here and in other places because of climate change. Warmer weather drives more monsoons, while warmer sea water adds to the happy situation for phytoplankton. They are at least somewhat responsible for creating the oxygen-deprived conditions that kill fish and other marine life.
Another interesting change is the type of phytoplankton that’s making an appearance. It used to be that Noctiluca miliaris (otherwise known as Noctiluca scintillans) would only turn up once and a while, but now it’s making more frequent showings, according to a 2008 study published in Deep Sea Research I, Blooms of Noctiluca miliaris in the Arabian Sea.
Miliaris, otherwise known as “seasparkle,” is hard to bad mouth. It’s one of the non-toxic kinds of dinoflagellates, the bad ones of which cause red tide and nasty diseases like paralytic shellfish poisoning and ciguatara. Miliaris has a beautiful glow-in-the-dark bio-luminescence, which you can catch glimpses of when you stare out at the ocean at night.
More sparkle to the Arabia Sea sounds pretty cool. Still, is it another sign of a warming world?