Blooms of phytoplankton in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska
What's blooming so brightly?

Blooms of phytoplankton in the Chukchi Sea

Hundreds of shades of blue are marbled together in this cool shot. No, it's not a work of modern art, it's right off the brush of nature. This is a satellite photo of phytoplankton blooming near Alaska as the cool, salty Chukchi Sea mingles with warmer, fresher water closer to shore.

But just what are phytoplankton? They're microscopic sun-powered organisms that float near the surface of the ocean, drifting with the currents. In fact, their name derives from the Greek 'phyton' for plant and 'planktos' for wanderer or drifter. Delicious and nutritious to various creatures living in oceans and estuaries, they're also vital to everyone on Earth: Phytoplankton are responsible for about half of the world's photosynthesis, the sun-powered process that takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen.

We're talking phytoplankton today in honor of Earth Science Week, an international event encouraging all of us to learn about or even devote our life to the Earth sciences. This year's theme is 'Earth Science for a Sustainable World,' emphasizing science's role in sustaining our planet. So, time to dust off that microscope, visit your local science museum, or perhaps just learn more about beautiful, swirling phytoplankton.