Remarkable natural event seen from space

Annotated map showing algal bloom of the coast of Mac Robertson Land, Antarctica
Annotated map showing algal bloom of the coast of Mac Robertson Land, Antarctica. (Image taken from the MODIS instrument on the Terra satellite, at least 650 km from the Earth)
Aurora Australis surrounded by pancake ice and algal bloomClose-up of pancake ice and algal bloomClose-up of pancake ice and algal bloom

4th March 2012

As summer comes to a close, wind blowing snow off the Amery Ice Shelf in East Antarctica appears to have released nutrients which, combined with sunlight, have triggered a massive algal bloom (believed to be phaeocystis), seen in the upper area of this image.

The size of the bloom is estimated to be 200 kilometres (E–W) by 100 kilometres (N–S). Its colour is so rich that it is easily visible from space.

This shot was taken from the MODIS instrument on the Terra satellite, at least 650 km from the Earth, this week.

Dr Jan Lieser is a marine glaciologist who monitors the sea ice conditions in East Antarctic using satellite data for the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre in Hobart, Australia.

He has been following the bloom through imagery provided by NASA since mid-February and says this is a remarkable natural event. He has never seen an algal bloom this size from space off East Antarctica.

Australia’s research and resupply vessel Aurora Australis has visited the area near the bloom, so scientists can collect water samples of the algae.