Massive Algae Bloom Spreading Across Baltic Sea

baltic sea algae bloom satellite image

A labeled satellite image taken July 11 by the European Space Agency. Image via BBC.

The 30 bottles of pre-French Revolution champagne recently recovered from the bottom of the Baltic Sea were a pretty awesome find. But the latest thing to show up in the far northern body of water is hardly anything to pop a cork over: a potentially toxic algae bloom covering 377,000 square kilometers, an area larger than all of Germany.Scientists say the blue-green algae bloom in the Baltic Sea, revealed by the European Space Agency's Envisat satellite, "could pose a risk to marine life in the region," the BBC reported yesterday. Officials have also advised people to not swim in areas where the algae is visible.

Largest Algae Bloom Since 2005
According to the scientists, the largest bloom since 2005 -- affecting an area that extends from Finland in the north to parts of Germany and Poland in the south -- was triggered by a lack of wind, prolonged high temperatures, and fertilizers being washed into the sea from surrounding farmland. As the BBC explained:

This has led to a process called eutrophication, in which the additional nutrients stimulate rapid growth of phytoplankton -- microscopic free-floating marine plants. This accelerated growth also reduces the amount of oxygen available to other plant and animal species in the affected area; raising fears that it could destabilize fragile marine ecosystems.

Though the current bloom is expected to break apart once the winds pick up, the problem will doubtlessly reoccur. Already one of the world's most polluted seas, the Baltic faces further risks from construction of the Nord Stream underwater gas pipeline, which began in April and is due to be completed in 2012. Environmentalists say building the controversial pipeline -- set to carry gas from Russia to western Europe -- could stir up toxins lying on the sea bed. Couldn't we just leave the toxins alone and find more champagne down there instead?

More about algae blooms around the world:
NASA Releases New Map of Aquatic Dead Zones
Algae-Fighting Armada Trawls the Coast of China
China's Coast Under Siege By Massive Algae Slick
'Pretty' Pollution Photos Show Depths of Minnesota Lake's Environmental Distress (Slideshow)
Significant Red Tide Bloom Forecast for New England
Did a Deadly Algal Toxin Inspire Hitchcock's 'The Birds'?

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