Dark-colored river runoff includes nitrogen and phosphorus, which are used as fertilizers in agriculture. These nutrients cause blooms of marine algae called phytoplankton. During extremely large phytoplankton blooms where the algae is so concentrated the water may appear black, some phytoplankton die, sink to the ocean bottom and are eaten by bacteria. The bacteria consume the algae and deplete oxygen from the water that leads to fish kills.
For the first time, scientists may now detect a phytoplankton bloom in its early stages by looking at its red "glow" under sunlight, due to the unique data from two NASA satellites. According to a study conducted in the Gulf of Mexico, this phenomenon can forewarn fishermen and swimmers about developing cases of red tides that occur within plumes of dark-colored runoff from river and wetlands, sometimes causing "black water" events.
Chuanmin Hu and Frank Muller-Karger, oceanographers at the College of Marine Science of University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, Fla., used fluorescence data from NASAs Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments aboard both NASAs Terra and Aqua satellites. MODIS detects the glow or phytoplankton fluorescence, from the plants chlorophyll. The human eye cannot detect the red fluorescence.
Rob Gutro | EurekAlert!
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