Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

NASA Data Shows Hurricanes Help Plants Bloom In 'Ocean Deserts'

Date:
June 21, 2004
Source:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Summary:
Whenever a hurricane races across the Atlantic Ocean, chances are phytoplankton will bloom behind it. According to a new study using NASA satellite data, these phytoplankton blooms may also affect the Earth's climate and carbon cycle.

Using five years of data from the SeaWiFS instrument, scientists have taken the Earth’s pulse. Every spring, phytoplankton spread across the North Atlantic in one of the largest “blooms” on the planet. In this visualization, the phytoplankton colony shown in green covers an area larger than the Amazon rainforest in South America.
Credit: NASA/Orbimage

Whenever a hurricane races across the Atlantic Ocean, chances are phytoplankton will bloom behind it. According to a new study using NASA satellite data, these phytoplankton blooms may also affect the Earth's climate and carbon cycle.

Related Articles


Dr. Steven Babin, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University in Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland studied 13 North Atlantic hurricanes between 1998 and 2001. Ocean color data from the SeaWiFS instrument on the SeaStar satellite were used to analyze levels of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants. The satellite images showed tiny microscopic ocean plants, called phytoplankton, bloomed following the storms.

"Some parts of the ocean are like deserts, because there isn't enough food for many plants to grow. A hurricane's high winds stir up the ocean waters and help bring nutrients and phytoplankton to the surface, where they get more sunlight, allowing the plants to bloom," Babin said.

Previous research has relied largely on sporadic, incomplete data from ships to understand how and when near-surface phytoplankton bloom. "This effect of hurricanes in ocean deserts has not been seen before. We believe it is the first documented satellite observation of this phenomenon in the wake of hurricanes," Babin noted. "Because 1998 was the first complete Atlantic hurricane season observed by this instrument, we first noticed this effect in late 1998 after looking at hurricane Bonnie," Babin said.

The study found the physical make-up of a storm, including its size, strength and forward speed, is directly related to the amount of phytoplankton that blooms. Bigger storms appear to cause larger phytoplankton blooms. An increased amount of phytoplankton should have more chlorophyll, which satellite sensors can see.

Hurricane-induced upwelling, the rising of cooler nutrient-rich water to the ocean surface, is also critical in phytoplankton growth. For two to three weeks following almost every storm, the satellite data showed phytoplankton growth. Babin and his colleagues believe it was stimulated by the addition of nutrients brought up to the surface.

Whenever the quantity of plants increases or decreases, it affects the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As phytoplankton grow, they absorb carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas. The gas is carried to the ocean floor as a carbon form when the tiny plants die. This enables atmospheric carbon to get into the deep ocean. It is one of several natural processes that contribute to Earth's carbon cycle.

By stimulating these phytoplankton blooms, hurricanes can affect the ecology of the upper ocean. Phytoplankton is at the bottom of the food chain. The factors that influence their growth also directly affect the animals and organisms that feed on them. In addition, since climate-related phenomena like El Niño may change the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, storm-induced biological activity may have even greater contributions to future climate change.

Scientists are still trying to determine how much carbon dioxide might be removed from such a process. "Better knowledge of the carbon cycle will improve our understanding of global ecology and how climate change might affect us," Babin said.

The research appeared as a paper in a recent issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans. Study co-authors include J.A. Carton, University of Maryland, College Park, Md.; T.D. Dickey, Ocean Physics Laboratory, University of California, Santa Barbara, Calif.; and J.D. Wiggert, Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.

NASA's Earth Science Enterprise funded part of the research. The Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to improve climate, weather, and natural hazard prediction using the unique vantage point of space.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "NASA Data Shows Hurricanes Help Plants Bloom In 'Ocean Deserts'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 June 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/06/040621074822.htm>.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. (2004, June 21). NASA Data Shows Hurricanes Help Plants Bloom In 'Ocean Deserts'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/06/040621074822.htm
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "NASA Data Shows Hurricanes Help Plants Bloom In 'Ocean Deserts'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/06/040621074822.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Bolivian Recycling Initiative Turns Plastic Waste Into School Furniture

Bolivian Recycling Initiative Turns Plastic Waste Into School Furniture

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) — Innovative recycling project in La Paz separates city waste and converts plastic garbage into school furniture made from 'plastiwood'. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Blu-Ray Discs Getting Second Run As Solar Panels

Blu-Ray Discs Getting Second Run As Solar Panels

Newsy (Nov. 26, 2014) — Researchers at Northwestern University are repurposing Blu-ray movies for better solar panel technology thanks to the discs' internal structures. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Antarctic Sea Ice Mystery Thickens... Literally

Antarctic Sea Ice Mystery Thickens... Literally

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) — Antarctic sea ice isn't only expanding, it's thicker than previously thought, and scientists aren't sure exactly why. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) — A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins