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The most important light-absorbing substance in the oceans is chlorophyll, which phytoplankton use to produce carbon by photosynthesis. Due to this green pigment - chlorophyll - phytoplankton preferentially absorb the red and blue portions of the light spectrum (for photosynthesis) and reflect green light. So, the ocean over regions with high concentrations of phytoplankton
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This MODIS image of blue water in the Caribbean Sea looks blue because the sunlight is scattered by the water molecules. Near the Bahama Islands, the lighter aqua colors are shallow water where the sunlight is reflecting off of the sand and reefs near the surface.
If someone were to ask you what is the color of the ocean, chances are that you would answer that is was blue. For most of the world's oceans, your answer would be correct. Pure water is perfectly clear, of course -- but if there is a lot of water, and the water is very deep so that there are no reflections off the sea floor, the water appears as a very dark navy blue. The reason the ocean is blue is due to the absorption and scattering of light. The blue wavelengths of light are scattered, similar to the scattering of blue light in the sky but absorption is a much larger factor than scattering for the clear ocean water. In water, absorption is strong in the red and weak in the blue, thus red light is absorbed quickly in the ocean leaving blue. Almost all sunlight that enters the ocean is absorbed, except very close to the coast. The red, yellow, and green wavelengths of sunlight are absorbed by water molecules in the ocean. When sunlight hits the ocean, some of the light is reflected back directly but most of it penetrates the ocean surface and interacts with the water molecules that it encounters. The red, orange, yellow, and green wavelengths of light are absorbed so that the remaining light we see is composed of the shorter wavelength blues and violets.
If there are any particles suspended in the water, they will increase the scattering of light. In coastal areas, runoff from rivers, resuspension of sand and silt from the bottom by tides, waves and storms and a number of other substances can change the color of the near-shore waters. Some types of particles (in particular, the cells of phytoplankton, also referred to as algae) can also contain substances that absorb certain wavelengths of light, which alters its characteristics.
Left Image: Phytoplankton are very small, single-celled plants, generally smaller than the size of a pinhead that contain a green pigment called chlorophyll. All plants (on land and in the ocean) use chlorophyll to capture energy from the sun and through the process known as photosynthesis convert water and carbon dioxide into new plant material and oxygen.
Right Image: Although microscopic, phytoplankton can bloom in such large numbers that they can change the color of the ocean to such a degree that we can measure that change from space. The swirls of green are a phytoplankton bloom in the Gulf of California.
The most important light-absorbing substance in the oceans is chlorophyll, which phytoplankton use to produce carbon by photosynthesis. Due to this green pigment - chlorophyll - phytoplankton preferentially absorb the red and blue portions of the light spectrum (for photosynthesis) and reflect green light. So, the ocean over regions with high concentrations of phytoplankton will appear as certain shades, from blue-green to green, depending upon the type and density of the phytoplankton population there. The basic principle behind the remote sensing of ocean color from space is this: the more phytoplankton in the water, the greener it is....the less phytoplankton, the bluer it is. There are other substances that may be found dissolved in the water that can also absorb light. Since these substances are usually composed of organic carbon, researchers generally refer to these substances as colored dissolved organic matter, CDOM for short.
The study of ocean color helps scientists gain a better understanding of phytoplankton and their impact on the Earth system. These small organisms can affect a system on a very large scale such as climate change. Phytoplankton use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and in turn provide almost half the oxygen we breathe. The larger the world's phytoplankton population, the more carbon dioxide gets pulled from the atmosphere, hence, the lower the average temperature due to lower volumes of this greenhouse gas. Scientists have found that a given population of phytoplankton can double its numbers about once per day. In other words, phytoplankton respond very rapidly to changes in their environment. Large populations of these organisms, sustained over long periods of time, could significantly lower atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and, in turn, lower average temperatures. Carbon can be 'stored' in oceanic sediments when organic matter sinks and is buried in the ocean floor.
Understanding and monitoring phytoplankton can help scientists study and predict environmental change. Since phytoplankton depend upon sunlight, water, and nutrients to survive, physical or chemical variance in any of these ingredients over time for a given region will affect the phytoplankton concentrations. Phytoplankton populations grow or diminish rapidly in response to changes in its environment. Changes in the trends for a given phytoplankton population, such as its density, distribution, and rate of population growth or diminishment, will alert Earth scientists that environmental conditions are changing there. Then, by comparing these phytoplankton trends to other measurements - such as temperature - scientists can learn more about how phytoplankton may be contributing to, and affected by, climatic and environmental change.
Is it true that the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans don’t mix?
Asked by: Sonia Cooke, Northampton
Is it true that the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans don’t mix?
By Alexandra Franklin-Cheung
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Asked by: Sonia Cooke, Northampton
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Most of us are aware that the Pacific Ocean lies between the Americas in the east, and Oceania and Asia in the west. The Atlantic Ocean sits between Europe and Africa in the east, and the Americas in the west.
The Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest and deepest ocean, covering approximately 165 million square kilometres. It has an average depth of 4,280m. The Atlantic Ocean comes in second, with an area of around 107 million square kilometres and an average depth of 3,646m.
While we’ve given our planet’s oceans separate names, in reality there’s no border between them, and currents continually flow between them and mix their waters.
Still, each of the planet’s oceans and seas has its own characteristics. For example, the surface salinity of the Atlantic is higher than the Pacific and Indian Oceans, while the enclosed waters of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean are saltier still. This is because lower salinity waters from the deep sea cannot easily flow in, and water evaporates faster than rainfall can replace it.
The waters around Cape Horn are treacherous, due to the meeting of ocean currents © Getty Images
The Atlantic and Pacific ‘meet’ at the southernmost tip of South America, known as Cape Horn. In this region, a strong current carries water from west to east, sweeping water from the Pacific into the Atlantic. Travelling around Cape Horn is a turbulent, dangerous journey to make by ship and has claimed many lives. Prior to the building of the Panama Canal, it was the sole route by sea between the Pacific and Atlantic.
The viral videos you may have seen online showing two different coloured bodies of water drifting alongside each other, claiming to be the meeting point of the Atlantic and Pacific, are actually showing light-coloured, sediment-rich freshwater from melted glaciers meeting dark, salty ocean water in the Gulf of Alaska (and over time, currents and eddies cause these to mix, too). This original video was shot in 2015, but was later mislabelled as being the meeting point of the Pacific and Atlantic.Read more about the oceans:
12 of the weirdest deep-sea creatures that lurk in the ocean's depths
There are five oceans now, not four. A marine biologist explains why that matters…
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For broader coverage of this topic, see Ocean optics and Color of water.
For the music band, see Ocean Colour Scene.
Clockwise from top left: deep blue water, blue-green water, satellite image of the Bahamas where sunlight reflects off sand and reefs in the shallows, satellite image of phytoplankton bloom in the Southern Ocean, satellite image of the Pribilof Islands showing shades of color from different phytoplankton, and satellite image of the Baltic Sea with phytoplankton blooms.Ocean color is the branch of ocean optics that specifically studies the color of the water and information that can be gained from looking at variations in color. The color of the ocean, while mainly blue, actually varies from blue to green or even yellow, brown or red in some cases. This field of study developed alongside water remote sensing, so it is focused mainly on how color is measured by instruments (like the sensors on satellites and airplanes).
Most of the ocean is blue in color, but in some places the ocean is blue-green, green, or even yellow to brown. Blue ocean color is a result of several factors. First, water preferentially absorbs red light, which means that blue light remains and is reflected back out of the water. Red light is most easily absorbed and thus does not reach great depths, usually to less than 50 meters (164 ft.). Blue light, in comparison, can penetrate up to 200 meters (656 ft.). Second, water molecules and very tiny particles in ocean water preferentially scatter blue light more than light of other colors. Blue light scattering by water and tiny particles happens even in the very clearest ocean water, and is similar to blue light scattering in the sky.
The main substances that affect the color of the ocean include dissolved organic matter, living phytoplankton with chlorophyll pigments, and non-living particles like marine snow and mineral sediments. Chlorophyll can be measured by satellite observations and serves as a proxy for ocean productivity (marine primary productivity) in surface waters. In long term composite satellite images, regions with high ocean productivity show up in yellow and green colors because they contain more (green) phytoplankton, whereas areas of low productivity show up in blue.
2 Water types by color
2.1 Blue oceans 2.2 Green oceans
2.3 Yellow to brown oceans
2.4 Red oceans
3 Ocean color remote sensing
3.1 History 3.2 Applications
3.2.1 Chlorophyll as a proxy for phytoplankton
3.2.2 Other applications
4.1 Satellite sensors
4.2 Airborne sensors
4.3 In situ sensors 5 See also 6 References 7 External links
Ocean color depends on how light interacts with the materials in the water. When light enters water, it can either be absorbed (light gets used up, the water gets "darker"), scattered (light gets bounced around in different directions, the water remains "bright"), or a combination of both. How underwater absorption and scattering vary spectrally, or across the spectrum of visible to infrared light energy (about 400 nm to 2000 nm wavelengths) determines what “color” the water will appear to a sensor.
Water types by color
Most of the world’s oceans appear blue because the light leaving water is brightest (has the highest reflectance value) in the blue part of the visible light spectrum. Nearer to land, coastal waters often appear green. Green waters appear this way because algae and dissolved substances are absorbing light in the blue and red portions of the spectrum.
A deep blue colored wave viewed from the water surface near Encinitas, California, United States. The Pacific Ocean contains some of the most deep blue colored waters in the world.
The reason that open-ocean waters appear blue is that they are very clear, somewhat similar to pure water, and have few materials present or very tiny particles only. Pure water absorbs red light with depth. As red light is absorbed, blue light remains. Large quantities of pure water appear blue (even in a white-bottom swimming pool or white-painted bucket). The substances that are present in blue-colored open ocean waters are often very tiny particles which scatter light, scattering light especially strongly in the blue wavelengths. Light scattering in blue water is similar to the scattering in the atmosphere which makes the sky appear blue (called Rayleigh scattering). Some blue-colored clear water lakes appear blue for these same reasons, like Lake Tahoe in the United States.