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Abstract Art: Earth Image of the Week February 17, 2012
Satellite image of Atlantic algae bloom
Only a few clouds dotted the skies of the South Atlantic above the swirls of phytoplankton last December 2.
Nature often creates breathtaking displays of beauty that rival the works of the world's most renowned human artists.

Such a vision was captured by an orbiting satellite on December 20, 2011, over the waters of the South Atlantic Ocean.

The European Space Agency's ENVISAT satellite was passing over an area to the north of the Falkland Islands and due east of Argentina's Patagonia region when it snapped the image to the right.

The swirls of blue and green were composed of phytoplankton blooming in the late spring sunshine of the Southern Hemisphere.

The figure-eight pattern in the image is likely to be an example of von Karman vortices, which are formed when an obstacle blocks a prevailing wind or ocean current.

Fluid dynamicist Theodore von Karman was the first to detail the conditions under which these turbulence patterns occur.

Von Karman was a professor of aeronautics at the California Institute of Technology and one of the principal founders of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

As for the content of the vortices in the image, ENVISAT is equipped with a special color sensor that can be used to identify which chlorophyll pigment is contained in maritime blooms of the microscopie algae plants.

Scientists can use that information to determine the different species of the plankton and the potential for toxic effects on other marine life that might be sharing the same area of ocean.

Image: European Space Agency