Satellites spot oceans aglow with trillions of organisms

Posted: January 6, 2022 by oldbrew in Ocean dynamics, research, satellites

Bioluminescence [image credit: Gov’t. of South Australia]

Such events happen because ‘the microbes can suddenly light up as if a switch were thrown’. Even the smallest occurrence can be ‘100 times larger than Manhattan’.
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The ocean has always glowed, says the NY Times (via

The Greeks and Romans knew of luminous sea creatures as well as the more general phenomenon of seawater that can light up in bluish-green colours.

Charles Darwin, as he sailed near South America on a dark night aboard the HMS Beagle, encountered luminescent waves. He called it “a wonderful and most beautiful spectacle.”

As far as the eye could see, he added, “the crest of every wave was bright” — so much so that the “livid flames” lit the sky.

Now, scientists report that ocean bioluminescence can be so intense and massive in scale that satellites orbiting 500 miles high can see glowing mats of microorganisms as they materialise in the seas.

Last month in the journal Scientific Reports, eight investigators told of finding a luminous patch south of Java in 2019 that grew to be larger than the combined areas of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

“It was an epiphany,” said Steven D Miller, lead author on the bioluminescence study and a specialist in satellite observations at Colorado State University. When a hidden wonder of nature comes to light, he added, “it captures your imagination.”

The scientists said the close examination of images gathered between December 2012 and March 2021 from a pair of satellites let them identify a dozen extremely large events — approximately one every eight months. Even the smallest was a hundred times larger than Manhattan.

The imagery is opening a new window on the world’s oceans, scientists say, and promises to aid the tracking and study of the glowing seas, whose origins are poorly understood.

Continued here.

  1. […] Satellites spot oceans aglow with trillions of organisms […]

  2. cognog2 says:

    If you are a sailer you don’t need satellites to tell you this.

  3. Any way to see this on land? It would be so beautiful.

  4. Hasbeen says:

    You have to spend a lot of time by the ocean & estuaries to catch it The Adventure Machine. I lived on my yacht at a marina in a quiet back block of Sydney harbor for a few years. Perhaps 10 times a year, on still nights we would get blue streaks under water. This was Bioluminescence generated by small fish darting around. Stirring the water with an ore would generate a large patch of bright blue.

    I have only just realised that this was usually on very high tide nights. The marina cat would get down on the lowest joists, very close to the water on these night tides, & actually snatch small fish from the water, guided by the luminescence of their movement.

    I also sailed over 50,000 miles mostly around the tropical Pacific Islands, often sailing on almost still nights, & never once experienced it at sea.

  5. RexAlan says:

    Bio Luminescence at Jervis Bay NSW.

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