Rainbow Swamp

May 03, 2022


Photographer: Daniel Widner

Summary Authors: Daniel Widner; Cadan Cummings

The photo above features two types of rainbow effects, one an artifact of the camera and the other a unique biological process. As part of the nutrient cycle, swamps are constantly growing and recycling energy and matter. When a plant dies or leaves drop in the fall, the vegetation begins decaying before eventually bacteria and other decomposers break it down to acquire nutrients they need to survive. In the case of the swamp above, natural oils were produced by decomposing vegetation as well as possible from anaerobic bacteria reducing iron in the soil. This resulted in a thin film being created on the surface of the swamp, visible as a rainbow of different pastel hues. For the multicolored layer to be so noticeable, the waters must have been still long enough for the oils to separate out of the water.

Visible in the top of the image is an equally colorful lens flare caused by an internal reflection within the camera. This type of image artifact is common under bright light and highly reflective conditions. Although inadvertent, the lens flare gives the photo a unique look combined with this already colorful and unusual microbial process.

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