Friday, July 10, 2015

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Sunshine fuels Noctiluca blooms and green islands

By Jessica Payne, Environmental Assessment Program communications manager

In this month's Eyes Over Puget Sound report, the data shows our current trend of unusually warm water temperatures is continuing in central and south Puget Sound. 

Willapa Bay, however, returned to expected water temperatures as a result of cooler water pushing in from deep in the ocean. That is good news for the marine wildlife that live in Willapa Bay, but Puget Sound is still feeling the heat!

What in the world is this!?

Although it might look like some magic concoction created in the laboratory of a science fiction novel, it's actually nature and sunshine mixing up tiny plants and animals in the sound.

View of the organic floating islands
from the air. Click photo to enlarge.

What's the mixture?

Our scientists saw many pockets of this mixture during this week's marine monitoring flight. They call them "extensive mats of organic debris mixing with a fading Noctiluca bloom".

In other words, the green you see above is floating islands of algae. This floating plant matter grows, flows and begins to spread out across the water.

What's this Noctiluca I keep hearing about?

The orange is the last remnants of the Noctiluca bloom we saw so much of in last month's issue. The tomato soup-colored Noctiluca blooms are non-toxic plankton and occur naturally every year. See microscopic photos of Noctiluca and many other Puget Sound plankton in a guest piece from King County's Environmental Lab.

We saw the most of these organic debris islands in central Puget Sound, between Seattle and Bainbridge Island, although they extended north up to Camano Island and Padilla Bay. We also saw many red-brown and brown blooms of other types of algae going strong in southern inlets and around the San Juan Islands.

WCC gives a young scientist the experience of a lifetime

For Brooke, our Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) intern, working with our marine monitoring team has been dynamic and fun. Whether she's running equipment, analyzing samples in the lab or catching jellyfish, she's right in the action.

Read about Brooke's experience in the Personal Field Impressions section of this month's report. She tells of her adventures working with Puget Sound critters and gives advice for other young scientists who are interested in environmental work.

Want to work with Ecology? WCC will be opening it's recruitment period statewide on July 15. These are AmeriCorps positions that provide paid opportunities for young people and veterans to gain experience in natural resource work. Brooke's internship is one of their Individual Placement positions. Learn more about joining a crew or applying for an Individual Placement like Brooke's on the WCC webpage.

What's Eyes Over Puget Sound?

Eyes Over Puget Sound combines high-resolution photo observations with satellite images, ferry data from travel between Seattle and Victoria BC, and measurements from our moored instruments. We use a seaplane to travel between our monitoring stations because they are so far apart.

Once a month, we take photos of Puget Sound water conditions and turn those out, along with data from our stations, in the monthly Eyes Over Puget Sound report.

Learn more and see other issues on our website.

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