New Satellite Technology To Explore The Milky Seas


  • A biological switch is flipped when the number of Luminous bacteria reaches a critical mass-roughly 100 million individual cells per milliliter of water.
  • A piece of specific equipment is needed to detect light a hundred million times fewer than daylight.
  • A milky sea can last anywhere from a couple of days to over a month.

Milky oceans can cover thousands of square miles and are well-known in maritime legend because of the vivid accounts of 19th-century seamen like Capt. Kingman, says an article published in The Conversation.

Milky Seas are a rare nocturnal phenomenon in which the ocean’s surface emits a steady bright glow. However, they are tough to examine because of their remote and elusive character and hence remain more a part of legend than science.

Sailor’s tales

A milky ocean has only ever been encountered by one research vessel. That team took samples and discovered Vibrio harveyi, a bright bacteria strain inhibiting algae at the water’s surface. Luminous bacteria work differently than bioluminescence that occurs along the beach-where microscopic creatures called dinoflagellates flash vividly when disturbed. When their number reaches a critical mass–around 100 million individual cells per milliliter of water – a biological switch is flipped, and they all begin to light steadily.

While biologists know a lot about these bacteria, they still don’t identify what creates these vast displays. If bacteria living on algae were the primary cause of milky seas, they would occur all over the world, all the time. However, according to surface accounts, only two or three milky seas occur each year across the globe, predominantly in the northwest Indian Ocean and off the coast of Indonesia.

Satellite solutions

If scientists want to understand more about milky seas, they must visit one while they are still active. The problem is that milky seas are so hard to get – sampling them has proven nearly impossible. This is where the satellites provide a practical means to monitor the enormous oceans, but detecting light 100 million times fainter than daylight requires a particular device. However, the photos from these satellites were extremely noisy, and therefore cannot utilize them as a search tool.

The future is bright

Viewing Day/Night Band visuals is like putting on glasses for the first time compared to older technology. The most significant practical discovery is the duration of a milky sea. While some just endure a few days, some last more than a month. That means there’s a chance to send research vessels to these far-flung phenomena as they occur. This would allow scientists to determine their full composition, how they originate, why they’re so rare, and what ecological relevance they have in nature.

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Source: The Conversation


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