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California's superbloom is so big and bright, it can be seen from space

Nature: Superbloom
Nature: Superbloom 02:07

California's superbloom phenomenon is so big and bright this year it can be seen from space. NASA's Landsat 9 satellite, which was launched in 2021 to capture images of Earth's land surface, sent back images of bright purple and green blooms in Carrizo Plain National Park.

A superbloom occurs when desert areas in Southern California receive more rain or cooler weather through the fall and winter, allowing more flowers to thrive. The term "superbloom," however, is not a scientific one: It was created by the media to describe these colorful, robust blooms, said said Cameron Barrows, an associate research ecologist at UC Riverside's Center for Conservation Biology. 

Bright purple and green patches seen on Earth from space are Southern California's superbloom phenomenon.  NASA

Some years, the blooms aren't that super. Excessive rain can also help bromes, a type of grass. grow fast, filling the area and covering the flowers, said Richard Minnich, a professor of earth sciences at UC Riverside.

And it's not every year the area gets enough rain for the spectacle to happen. The 2023 NASA images, taken on April 6, are much more colorful than the April 2022 images, NASA says. Carrizo Plain National Park is located north of Santa Barbara. 

The 2019 bloom near the town of New Cuyama was also visible from space, according to NASA.  Several areas in the state are experiencing superblooms this year, with Chino Hills State Park getting a carpet of orange poppies.

Visitors often flock to the superblooms when they are vibrant, and officials have called excessive tourism a "nightmare" in the past. "The 2019 bloom became a national ... and international phenomenon," Lake Elsinore Mayor Natasha Johnson said during a news conference earlier this month. "Numerous problems occurred on our trails and roads. There were Disneyland-size crowds wanting to see the poppies."

The vibrant green seen on this image taken by NASA's Landsat 9 satellite is part of Southern California's superbloom.  NASA

Some visitors trampled the flowers and a California highway patrol officer even died as a result of problems with visitors during the 2019 superbloom, according to the Regional Conservation Authority of Western Riverside County. Trails, parking and access to Walker Canyon were closed as a result. 

The 2023 bloom was not expected to be as vibrant and vast as the one in 2019, but it was expected to be large, Johnson said. Visitors were urged to watch it from a safe distance – on a livestream of the area, as they will not be allowed in Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore.  

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