Why so Blue? Hood Canal Erupts in Phytoplankton Bloom

In late July 2016, the waters of the Hood Canal turned a brilliant blue, causing many residents and visitors to wonder what had happened to the usually dark waters of Washington State’s most famous fjord. The answer is actually a pretty simple one- the water color changed due to a phytoplankton bloom. Thanks to NASA, we were able to see just how impressive the bloom was, as it was visible from space.  According to NASA’s Earth Observatory website, the bloom turned the waters a milky blue color, due to microscopic plankton called Coccolithophores that are plated with white calcium carbonate. The plates can impart a milky, turquoise hue to the water that is often visible from space.

The bloom is a natural occurring phenomenon, and was confirmed to be a Coccolithophores bloom by Teri King of Washington Sea Grant and SoundToxins—a citizen science monitoring program that documents harmful algal blooms, unusual bloom events, and new species entering the Salish Sea. Similar blooms most recently happened in Hood Canal in July and August of 2007.

“It is hard to miss a bloom of this color,” King wrote on Facebook. “We don’t see them often, but when we do it is remarkable.”

Hood Canal is bright blue compared to the rest of the waters of the Pacific Northwest.  Image via NASA
Hood Canal is bright blue compared to the rest of the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Image via NASA

 

Image via NASA's Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite.
Image via NASA’s Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite.
The algae bloom on Hood Canal, as seen from Mount Ellinor
The algae bloom on Hood Canal, as seen from Mount Ellinor

What does this mean?

The bloom should’t be a big deal and experts on similar events are sounding calm, but they are watching the impact of it closely.  There is some risk due to a bloom like this as it could impact Hood Canal’s incredible oyster population. Blooms like this could lead to hypoxia, the depletion of oxygen in the water, which can adversely impact the oyster population. Chance are, this was nothing more than an impressive bloom and something that visitors to the region will remember for quite awhile. The oyster population will be fine, hopefully, and life will keep being interesting and beautiful along the always stunning Hood Canal region of Washington State.

Unfamiliar with the Hood Canal Region of Washington?

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