In Spring, the Ocean Blooms

A NASA photo of the Atlantic Bloom.
A NASA photo of the Atlantic Bloom.

The North Atlantic has its own greening each year, when a massive bloom of microscopic plants—phytoplankton—unfolds from Bermuda to the Arctic. It’s what makes the ocean able to soak up CO2 from the atmosphere:

• Sunlight and carbon dioxide allow phytoplankton to grow and reproduce at the ocean’s surface in a massive display of color known as the North Atlantic Bloom.

• Phytoplankton remove carbon dioxide from seawater during photosynthesis and release oxygen as a by-product. That allows the oceans to absorb additional carbon dioxide from the air.

• Phytoplankton die, and the heavy carbon in their cells sinks to the deep ocean.

• Assistant Professor Melissa Omand and her team have answered an old question: What happens to the lighter particles left over? It turns out that ocean eddies allow them to hitch a ride downward.

• The research has implications for predicting how the oceans will affect atmospheric CO2 and, ultimately, the earth’s climate.