Someone is painting the ocean to the north of Norway and Russia in vivid colors, twirls, and twists for the last two to three days. The exuberance and rich detail reminds me of a Vincent van Gogh. While some may see a divine hand and design at work, I see tiny plants floating in a turbulent ocean. To see the ocean, one needs a satellite in space to cover this painting more than 1000 miles wide and long. To see the plants, one needs a microscope.
The painting shown here is coarse and crude, because it is composed of dots that are two kilometers big, but anyone with a fast connection can download the same painting with dots that are two hundred and fifty meters big here. The canvas is bigger than your computer screen, so you will need to scroll around.
The colors are made by stuff in the ocean, called coccolithophores that reflects sunlight back to detectors (light catchers) on the MODIS satellite which for the last 11 years has cycled around the globe shooting a picture every five minutes as it flies overhead. It returns to the same spot every sixteen days, but since all tracks come always together over the North and South Pole, there are many images of the same region in the far north and south of this earth.
Scientists study ice and clouds and glaciers and small plants in and near the oceans using the numbers (digits) that the satellites sent back to earth. On land our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq use these and similar observations to prepare for sandstorms on land. Under water, our Navy Seals use them to prepare for visibility in coastal waters. So lots of stuff is done with these data, but the amazing thing to me, and I truly love my country for this, all these data are made available for all to see and for all to use as they see fit. If I download and crunch numbers, anyone can. I’ll teach you, too.