Scientists Track Massive 5,000-Mile-Wide Seaweed Mass Visible from Space
The Sunshine State may expect a bummer for summer this year as a massive 5,000-mile-wide seaweed mass heads to southern Florida.
The University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science says it is so large you can see it from space.
Researcher Brian Barnes told local news, “It’s incredible. What we’re seeing in the satellite imagery does not bode well for a clean beach year.”
What caused the giant seaweed mass?
Giant blob of seaweed twice the width of US taking aim at Florida, scientists say https://t.co/l05PT3bBYO
— Fox News (@FoxNews) March 12, 2023
The giant seaweed mass is the “Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt” that stretches from the coast of West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico.
The 5,000-mile-wide bloom is the world’s largest, weighing roughly 20 million tons. As the name implies, it mainly consists of a specific type of seaweed called Sargassum.
It is usually a harmless sea plant that serves as a habitat for fish and absorbs carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, its excessive growth alarmed scientists.
Believe it or not, NASA detected the growth back in 2011, when it first captured images of it from space.
University of South Florida researcher Dr. Chuanmin Hu shared insights about the giant seaweed mass in a press release.
He has been studying Sargassum using satellites since 2006. Dr. Hu wrote, “The ocean’s chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand.”
Hu and his fellow scientists studied the sea plant mass by collecting images from NASA’s MODIS satellite.
As a result, they discovered the sargassum biomass has expanded by roughly 800% since its first major bloom in 2011.
Researchers point to two factors that led to the giant seaweed mass headed for Florida. First, deforestation and fertilizer flow into the Amazon River.
They have substances like phosphorous and nitrogen that significantly boost the Sargassum Belt’s growth.
Second, winter causes seawater to rise from beneath the West African coast, carrying nutrients to the surface.
What are the problems caused by the giant seaweed mass?
Burning eyes and dead fish as red tide flares up on Florida coast https://t.co/93julypKks
— WKRN News 2 (@WKRN) March 14, 2023
Brian Barnes told NBC News that the giant seaweed blob could cause serious problems in coastal waters.
“It can block intake valves for things like power plants or desalination plants. Marinas can get completely inundated, and boats can’t navigate through,” he stated.
Also, he warned that “it can really threaten critical infrastructure.” The seaweed mass can block power plant valves and stop boats from navigating safely.
Worse, sargassum releases hydrogen sulfide when it decomposes. As a result, it degrades air and water quality and makes beaches stink like rotten eggs.
The giant seaweed mass can also trap and kill fish, so they wash up on beaches. In response, the Florida Wildlife Commission warns people to stay away from areas with algae.
Otherwise, they could experience rashes, skin irritation, and burning lungs and eyes. Also, people with asthma or other respiratory problems should take extra caution.