Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response (top left); Lyndsey Claassen, SoundToxins (top right); Brian Bill, NOAA, NWFSC, SoundToxins (bottom row)
Emiliania huxleyi is a coccolithophore species approximately 5-10μm in diameter. The exterior of the cell is covered in calcium carbonate platelets (called coccoliths). E. huxleyi is photosynthetic and removes CO2 from the atmosphere to create its coccoliths. This organism can occur in massive blooms that are highly reflective, allowing it to be seen from space.
E. huxleyi is the most abundant of the coccolithophore species on a global basis due to its large temperature range (1-30 °C). This organism thrives in locations that are low on nutrients but dies off as nutrients become more abundant. Their ability to thrive in low nutrient conditions eliminates competition from other phytoplankton species. This species is not toxic, and does not harm fish, shellfish, or hinder any human recreation.
For more information on Emiliania huxleyi in Hood Canal, see:Plankton Abloom in Washington’s Hood Canal, NASA Earth Observatory 2017 Bloom in Hood Canal, Washington, NASA Earth Observatory 2016
SoundToxins, a diverse partnership of Washington state shellfish and finfish growers, environmental learning centers, Native American tribes, and Puget Sound volunteers, is a monitoring program designed to provide early warning of harmful algal bloom events in order to minimize both human health risks and economic losses to Puget Sound fisheries.