It might look like Monet or Van Gogh, but it’s actually phytoplankton in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Captured on 23 September, the image shows a phytoplankton spring bloom, the time when there is an abundance of phytoplankton. “The image does a beautiful job of showing the close link between ocean physics and biology,” said Michael Behrenfeld, a phytoplankton ecologist at Oregon State University. “The features that jump out so clearly represent the influence of ocean eddies and physical stirring on the concentration of phytoplankton pigments and, possibly, coloured dissolved organic matter.”

The image was processed from data from the red, green, and blue bands from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, as well as chlorophyll data. The image processing was necessary to highlight the colour differences and to “bring out the bloom’s more subtle features”, NASA writes.

“A lot of what we don’t know about ocean ecology has to do with the difficulty of sampling the ocean,” Norman Kuring, an ocean scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told NASA. “Whether it be from a storm-tossed ship or from a cloud-obstructed satellite.”

This image was captured using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite.

Image credit: NASA image by Norman Kuring, using VIIRS data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership

Source: NASA