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Atlantic Blooms Each Spring

Nimbus-7 Coastal Zone Color Scanner recorded chlorophyll enrichment off the New England coast.
Nimbus-7 Coastal Zone Color Scanner sensor, which studied ocean color from 1978-1986, recorded in red the chlorophyll enrichment of the Georges Bank off the New England coast.

A satellite peering down at the ocean since 1978 has charted all of the plankton near the surface of the North Atlantic.

The American satellite Nimbus-7 stared at sunlight reflecting from a 500-mile-wide swath of ocean every time it flew overhead, noting the color of the surface of the sea.

Researchers on the ground combined many Nimbus-7 photos to make an ocean-wide color picture of how the microscopic plant life phytoplankton looked to the satellite.

The most striking feature was Spring Bloom, a big concentration of plankton extending all the way across the North Atlantic into the North Sea. Plants in the ocean take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water, and change it to plant tissue in a process called photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is a pigment which allows plants like phytoplankton to complete photosynthesis.

Nimbus-7 saw five colors of light until its ocean scanner quit working in 1986. Its pictures also revealed land and ocean plants on the edges of continents bordering the North Atlantic. Researchers put the satellite data through mathematical equations to compute how much chlorophyll was in the water.

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