Some of San Diego’s waves turned bright pink. Here’s why.

The normally blue waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego look different – at least for a while. Bright fuchsia-colored waves have been seen crashing along the shore for the past week, and researchers have revealed what is causing the sudden and dramatic color change.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography is responsible for the temporary color change at Torrey Pines State Beach. Researchers are conducting a study, called Plumes in Nearshore Conditions, or PiNC, to learn more about how freshwater interacts with saltwater near shore.

By releasing a non-toxic pink dye into the nearby Los Peñasquitos Lagoon coastal estuary, researchers say they are able to monitor what happens to that water when “small-scale plumes” end up in the surf zone on the beach , where the waves break. .

This research, Scripps said, will provide a “first-ever look” at how fresh water mixes with denser ocean water within waves. That information, they said, is critical to understanding how sediment, pollutants, larvae and other materials spread across the shoreline. The pink plume will be monitored in this study with different instruments, from the ground, from the sea and from the air.

The dye being used does not pose a risk to humans, wildlife or the environment,” Scripps said, although civilians have been urged not to swim in the area due to the ongoing research.

Scripps coastal oceanographer and study leader Sarah Giddings called the research a “really unique experiment”, as many previous studies on this topic have focused on large volumes of freshwater entering the ocean. They chose Los Peñasquitos Lagoon because it is a “prime example” of small plumes entering surf areas, she said in a news release.

“We’re bringing together a lot of different people with different expertise, so I think it’s going to have great results and impacts,” she said. “We will combine the results of this experiment within an older field study and computer models that will allow us to make progress in understanding how these plumes disperse.”

Giddings’ research shows how estuaries and the coastal ocean influence each other. Estuaries, NOAA explains, are “sensitive ecosystems” that contain freshwater drained from the ground as well as saltwater. They are also “one of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth,” says NOAA, because human activities have had a negative impact on their overall health. Because these bodies of water filter sediment and pollutants from the water before it flows into the ocean, they are a vital part of the health of marine life.

According to the research project’s website, Giddings and her team hypothesize that four things could happen to freshwater as it interacts with ocean waves: It gets trapped in the surf zone and/or escapes as a freshwater plume; it remains within a certain parameter of the coast; escapes the surf zone through rip currents; or finally, that the waves mix the fresh water with the sea water near the shore.

Giddings’ team is doing three dye releases, the first of which is on January 20th. Another release is planned sometime before the end of the month and another in early February. During a release, the researchers pumped 15 gallons of the dye into the estuary as the tide level drops. The researchers say that the bright pink coloring is then visible to the naked eye for several hours, and that small traces can be detected for about 24 hours.

The first experiment saw “much success,” researchers said on their website. The color indicated that the first plume was trapped in the surf zone but was eventually transported southwards with some of the plume being released from the surf zone.

Li Cohen is a social media producer and trend reporter for CBS News, focusing on social justice issues.

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