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Oceanic Masterpiece: Satellite Captures Vast Algae Bloom the Size of Germany in the South Atlantic

The Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission captured a significant algae bloom around the Falkland Islands in 2023, underscoring the role of ocean currents in supporting marine ecosystems and showcasing the satellites’ vital environmental monitoring functions. Credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2023), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

In November 2023, the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission documented a vast algae bloom around the Falkland Islands, highlighting the interplay between oceanic currents that fuel these essential marine phenomena.

The Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission, part of Europe’s Copernicus program, offers a sweeping view of an algae bloom around the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Algae in the South Atlantic often quickly develop into enormous blooms that float and are carried with the meandering ocean currents. In this image, captured in November 2023, impressive green and blue swirls covering more than 360,000 sq km can be seen around the islands. (This makes it about the same area as Germany, which is 357,600 sq km.) The different colors are the result of sunlight reflecting off the chlorophyll contained in the microscopic plants.

Oceanic Ballet: The Science Behind the Swirls

Blooms in this area are quite common owing to the convergence of two strong oceanic currents: the warmer low-nutrient current from Brazil flowing southward and the colder Falkland current that travels northward. When the two currents meet, the resulting turbulence causes upwelling, which can drive large amounts of nutrients to the surface, which is partly responsible for phytoplankton blooms. These blooms are an important food source for many marine speciesA species is a group of living organisms that share a set of common characteristics and are able to breed and produce fertile offspring. The concept of a species is important in biology as it is used to classify and organize the diversity of life. There are different ways to define a species, but the most widely accepted one is the biological species concept, which defines a species as a group of organisms that can interbreed and produce viable offspring in nature. This definition is widely used in evolutionary biology and ecology to identify and classify living organisms.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>species.

The Sentinel’s Watch: Monitoring Earth’s Dynamics

The islands lie around 500 km northeast of the southern tip of South America, and comprise two main islands, West and East Falkland, and hundreds of smaller islands and islets that cover a land area that totals around five times that of Luxembourg.

Their landscape comprises mountain ranges, flat plains, rugged coastlines, and cliffs. Hills run east-west across the northern parts of the two main islands, with the highest points being Mount Adam on West Falkland and Mount Usborne on East Falkland.

Helping to map algal blooms and providing critical information for marine operations are just some of the ways that the two Sentinel-3 satellites are used for Europe’s Copernicus program. Carrying a suite of cutting-edge instruments, Copernicus Sentinel-3 measures systematically Earth’s oceans, land, ice, and atmosphere to monitor and understand large-scale global dynamics.

Source: SciTechDaily