• tracking elusive milky seas -- NASA Earth Obsveratory

    From MrPostingRobot@kymhorsell.com@21:1/5 to All on Wed Nov 3 10:13:47 2021
    XPost: alt.global-warming

    This particular bioluminescence maybe useful to track dying
    phytoplankton that, in turn, contribute to the warming of the oceans
    by changing cloud and surface albedos.
    It's a complicated world but someone has to look at it all.
    Nexialists Unite!


    Hunting Milky Seas by Satellite

    Michael Carlowicz
    2 Nov 2021
    NASA Earth Observatory

    August 4, 2019 <https://eoimages.gsfc.nasa.gov/images/imagerecords/149000/149017/indonesia_vir_2019216_lrg.jpg>

    NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS
    day-night band data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting
    Partnership, MODIS data from NASA`s Ocean Color Web, and data
    courtesy of Miller, S. D., et al. (2021).

    Like a sea captain tracking a white whale, Steve Miller has been
    chasing "milky seas" for decades. He has been looking for examples of
    a rare form of marine bioluminescence, and the arrival of new
    night-light sensing satellite instruments has allowed him to detect
    several of these rare events. It also has given scientists a better
    chance to sample future events.

    Milky seas are a rare form of bioluminescence that mariners have
    described as looking like a snow field spread across the ocean. The
    steady white glow can stretch for vast distances, and it is not
    disturbed by ship wakes. Sailors have sporadically encountered this
    phenomenon since at least the 1600s, and Jules Verne dropped a
    reference to it into Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

    "A cool thing about milky seas is that they are so elusive, usually
    out on the high seas and away from major shipping lanes," Miller
    noted. "As a result, they have remained mostly a part of maritime folklore."

    Though there has been just one direct sampling of the phenomenon,
    scientists believe it occurs when populations of luminous
    (light-making) bacteria such as Vibrio harveyi explode in connection
    with colonies of certain algae and phytoplankton. Unlike typical bioluminescence--where phytoplankton emit light when they are
    stimulated, flashing briefly like fireflies--the bacteria in milky
    seas can stay lit for days to weeks. However, very little is known
    about the conditions in which they thrive.

    In the early 2000s, while working for the US Naval Research
    Laboratory, Miller and colleagues began discussing the unique light
    signals that they might be able to detect with the Visible Infrared
    Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) that was being developed for the next generation of NOAA and NASA satellites. In particular, they were
    thinking about whether VIIRS would be able to detect any previously undetectable phenomena from space, such as bioluminescence in the ocean.

    Miller then happened upon a ship captain's report of a strange case of
    glowing seas off of Somalia in 1995. That story of the S.S. Lima led
    Miller to look at nighttime data from the Operational Linescan System
    of the US Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. The signal was
    faint and the data were very noisy, but he found that what the Lima
    captain reported from the sea surface was actually visible from
    space. Miller and colleagues published those findings in 2005 and then
    waited patiently for the 2011 launch of the Suomi NPP satellite, the
    first to carry the new VIIRS instrument.

    VIIRS was developed with a "day-night band" (DNB), a special sensor
    designed to detect light in a range of wavelengths from green to
    near-infrared. The DNB is sensitive to light levels up to 10 mn
    times fainter than daylight, enabling scientists to distinguish
    signals such as airglow, auroras, city lights, and reflected
    moonlight. When he joined the Cooperative Institute for Research in
    the Atmosphere at Colorado State University in 2007, Miller continued
    to build a team to calibrate and explore the new features of the
    DNB. He believed it could help him find the elusive milky seas.

    1796 - 2021 <https://eoimages.gsfc.nasa.gov/images/imagerecords/149000/149017/milkyseas_map_2021_lrg.png>

    On one track, Miller built upon an established list of milky sea
    sightings compiled by marine biologist Peter Herring. Miller compiled
    more than 200 mentions of glowing seas found in historical documents
    and ship reports. He found one unlikely report from the captain of the
    C.S.S. Alabama in 1864 off the coast of Somalia that bore uncanny
    similarity to the 1995 Lima event. Mapping those reports from the past
    two centuries, Miller and colleagues found that the majority came from
    the northwest Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, as well as the waters near Indonesia and the Maritime Continent.

    On another track, Miller faced many challenges in determining whether
    the faint, ephemeral signal of milky seas could be detected by
    VIIRS. The day-night band is sensitive enough to detect many forms of
    nighttime light on and over the ocean--including lights from boats and
    gas flares from drilling platforms--and even in the sky--including
    airglow and atmospheric gravity waves. Clouds and snow also reflect
    light at night, muddying the DNB signals. Then there is the Moon: For
    half of every month, moonlight is the dominant signal reflecting off
    the ocean surface, making it hard to see much else.

    All of these signals tend to be brighter and more ubiquitous than
    milky seas, so all they had to be ruled out before Miller could say
    whether light was coming from the ocean itself. He also noted that the
    DNB response to light emissions is a bit "red-shifted" away from the
    presumed blue/green light emissions of most forms of marine

    In new research published in July 2021, Miller and 8 colleagues
    demonstrated that VIIRS could indeed detect the ghostly
    luminescence. Reviewing VIIRS data from 2012-2021, they found 12
    instances of milky seas across the Indian Ocean and far Western
    Pacific. The signals from each event were invisible during the
    day--and so not attributable to some other reflective substance in the ocean--and persistent across several consecutive nights, drifting with
    the surface currents.

    The largest event is shown at the top of this page. The VIIRS
    instrument on the NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite acquired the image of
    Java and surrounding seas on August 4, 2019. At its largest extent,
    the milky sea event spanned 100,000 square kilometers, about the size
    of Iceland. It began at the end of July and was still visible in early
    Sept, spanning 2 lunar cycles. The images below show the same
    event alongside measurements of chlorophyll made by NASA's Aqua

    August 4, 2019 <https://eoimages.gsfc.nasa.gov/images/imagerecords/149000/149017/indonesia_amo_2019216_lrg.jpg>

    Note that the highest concentrations of chlorophyll (the green, light-harnessing pigment in phytoplankton) are adjacent to, but not
    matching, the brightest areas of the milky sea. Miller and colleagues
    suggest that while the algae are harnessing sunlight and nutrients to
    make food, the luminous bacteria may be consuming dead or stressed
    algae on the fringes of the bloom. They may also be using their light
    to attract fish, as the bacteria can also live within the guts of
    fish. There may even be a symbiotic relationship between the bacteria
    and the algae yet to be discovered.

    To date, the only in situ study of milky seas occurred in 1985--a
    chance encounter by a scientific research vessel near Socotra in the
    Arabian Sea. Miller would like to change that. Since the Suomi NPP and
    NOAA-20 satellites are both equipped with VIIRS day-night bands and
    make daily observations, it is possible that scientists could detect a
    milky sea event from space and then send a research ship out to sample
    the waters.

    "The reports over the years have been more or less consistent, but
    there remains a great deal of uncertainty in terms of what
    circumstances conspire to form one, as well as the exact composition,
    relevant ecology, and structure," Miller said. "And where do they fit
    into nature? What they can tell us about life in the ocean? Bacteria
    are a very simple form of life and bioluminescence is thought to have
    been an essential function of some of the first life forms. What might
    milky seas teach us about searching for other, similar forms of basic
    life in the universe?"

    "There is still a lot to learn," he added. "We hope that the day-night
    band will help guide us toward that knowledge."

    Like a sea captain tracking a white whale, Steve Miller has been
    chasing a rare form of marine bioluminescence for decades.

    Aqua -- MODIS
    In situ Measurement
    Suomi NPP -- VIIRS

    References & Resources

    * Colorado State University (2021, July) Chasing the light from
    elusive milky seas. Accessed Oct 25, 2021.

    * Miller, S.D. et al. (2021) Honing in on bioluminescent milky seas
    from space. Nature Scientific Reports, 11, 15443.

    * Miller, S.D. et al. (2012) Suomi satellite brings to light a unique
    frontier of environmental imaging capabilities. Proceedings of the
    National Academy of Sciences, 109 (39) 1570615711.

    * Miller, S.D. et al. (2005) Detection of a bioluminescent milky sea
    from space. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102
    (40) 1418114184. <https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0507253102>

    * NASA Earth Observatory (2021) Earth at Night.

    * NASA Earth Observatory (2012, Dec 5) Out of the Blue and Into the Black.

    * Tillman, N.T. (2021) Satellites allow scientists to dive into milky
    seas. Eos 102. <https://doi.org/10.1029/2021EO162913>

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