The Earth Observatory of NASA released an image of massive algal blooms that were discovered to be forming at the Baltic Sea.
The stunning photograph was captured using the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on board the space agency's Landsat 8 satellite on Aug. 11. It shows that some portions of the Baltic Sea have been covered in large swirls of cyanobacteria, a type of marine bacteria that is capable of capturing energy from the sun through photosynthesis.
Some types of cyanobacteria are known to be highly toxic to both animals and humans, but the marine bacteria's most devastating effect is that they can deplete the oxygen in large areas of the ocean, creating dead zones where no other organism can survive in.
NASA said that the Baltic is known to be a prime territory for cyanobacteria because it is abundant in sunlight and its waters are rich in different kinds of nutrients.
To find out what type of bloom the Landsat 8 satellite was able to capture in the image, NASA contacted phytoplankton researcher Maren Voss of the Leibniz Institute of Baltic Sea Research, who was at the Baltic when the photograph was taken.
Voss identified the bloom in the Baltic as Nodularia, a type of cyanobacteria that tends to float on the surface of the ocean similar to a carpet.
According to scientists, cyanobacteria were the first known organisms to ever develop the ability to photosynthesize, which they acquired around 2.4 billion years in the past. This process resulted in the production of oxygen, which in turn lead to the drastic altering of the Earth's atmosphere and paved the way for the development of complex life.
These microorganisms also contributed to the creation of plant life. The chloroplasts in plants, which are the organelles in their cells that facilitate the process of photosynthesis, are known to be the descendants of cyanobacteria. It is believed that at some point in its development, a single-celled organism absorbed a cyanobacterium, which existed inside its body.
The plant cell itself also benefitted from the photosynthetic ways of the cyanobacteria. This so-called "endosymbiotic event" resulted in the development of different types of algae and plants.