Phytoplankton (ˌfaɪtoʊˈplæŋktən) are the autotroph
An autotroph, or producer, is an organism that produces complex organic compounds from simple inorganic molecules using energy from light or inorganic chemical reactions . They are the producers in a food chain, such as plants on land or algae in water...

ic component of the plankton
Plankton are any drifting organisms that inhabit the pelagic zone of oceans, seas, or bodies of fresh water. That is, plankton are defined by their ecological niche rather than phylogenetic or taxonomic classification...

 community. The name comes from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 words φυτόν (phyton), meaning "plant
Plants are living organisms belonging to the kingdom Plantae. Precise definitions of the kingdom vary, but as the term is used here, plants include familiar organisms such as trees, flowers, herbs, bushes, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses, and green algae. The group is also called green plants or...

", and πλαγκτός (planktos), meaning "wanderer" or "drifter". Most phytoplankton are too small to be individually seen with the unaided eye
Naked eye
The naked eye is a figure of speech referring to human visual perception unaided by a magnifying or light-collecting optical device, such as a telescope or microscope. Vision corrected to normal acuity using corrective lenses is considered "naked"...

. However, when present in high enough numbers, they may appear as a green discoloration of the water due to the presence of chlorophyll
Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in almost all plants, algae, and cyanobacteria. Its name is derived from the Greek words χλωρος, chloros and φύλλον, phyllon . Chlorophyll is an extremely important biomolecule, critical in photosynthesis, which allows plants to obtain energy from light...

 within their cells (although the actual color may vary with the species of phytoplankton present due to varying levels of chlorophyll or the presence of accessory pigments such as phycobiliprotein
Phycobiliproteins are water-soluble proteins present in cyanobacteria and certain algae that capture light energy, which is then passed on to chlorophylls during photosynthesis. Phycobiliproteins are formed of a complex between proteins and covalently bound phycobilins that act as chromophores...

s, xanthophyll
Xanthophylls are yellow pigments that form one of two major divisions of the carotenoid group. The name is from Greek xanthos + phyllon , due to their formation of the yellow band seen in early chromatography of leaf pigments...

s, etc.).
Phytoplankton are photosynthesizing microscopic organisms that inhabit the upper sunlit layer of almost all oceans and bodies of fresh water.