White Tide – A Coccolithophore Explosion

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An areal view of the bloom from the Santa Barbara Channel.

Turquoise water!!!! Here in Southern California we recently had a massive bloom of coccolithophores, a chalk-producing phytoplanktonic organism. These coccolithophores make chalk — calcium carbonate — as microscopic plants they photosynthesize, but they also absorb carbon dissolved in seawater and convert it into hard plates called coccoliths.

blog1They form internally and are eventually push outside the cell membrane creating a white tide, turning the ocean a stunning turquoise color. These plates are made up of calcium carbonate, similar to clam and oyster shells. This biological process, represents one of the most important mechanisms by which the Earth locks carbon into solid material, some of which ends up in the seafloor.

The beauty of all this is that it’s a very efficient way in the long term of sequestering carbon in planetary terms. The oceans currently absorb about a third of human-created CO2 emissions, roughly 22 million tons a day and when carbon dioxide dissolves in this ocean, carbonic acid is formed. This leads to higher ocean acidity, mainly near the surface, which has been proven to inhibit shell growth in marine animals and is suspected as a cause of reproductive disorders in some fish. So this bloom is a big deal and a great way to learn more about these amazing plants!

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These blooms can be so large that they can even be seen from satellite images.
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View coming into Fry’s Anchorage.
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The water looked as if it were glowing!
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Transported to the Caribbean.
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The bloom made the water visibility pretty crappy so we decided to explore the coast by dingy instead of diving that afternoon.
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Weston fishing for dinner.
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Dolphins playing off our bow!
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A lone tuna crab.

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