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Images: The Grass is Greener in the Coastal Ocean

Hot spots along the coast
Using satellite data, scientists can estimate how quickly microscopic plants are growing in the ocean. Red and yellow colors indicate regions of fastest growth, revealing the fertility of coastal waters. Tiny plants known as phytoplankton form the base of the food web, providing food for microscopic animals that in turn provide food for larger animals. (Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University.)

A satellite image shows the flood of sediment pouring out of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico (more than 500 million tons per year). The torrent of nutrients feeds blooms of marine plants, creating one of the ocean’s most biologically productive regions. But an overabundance of nutrients can sometimes cause microscopic plants and animals to grow, die, and decay so fast that they deplete the oxygen in the water. These “dead zones” (blackened waters in the image) can linger for months. (Liam Gumley, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, and the MODIS science team.)

Most of the world’s great fisheries lie in coastal waters. Scientists can explain why many areas are teeming with life, but other productive regions defy explanation. ( Digital Vision Ltd.)