Beachgoers in New Jersey were surprised to see that the typically grayish waters along the shore suddenly turned aquamarine.
Photographs captured by NASA's Aqua satellite show that the ocean around South Jersey has taken on a greenish shade as a result of phytoplankton bloom. The microorganisms are visible in waters along the Long Beach Island coast to Cape May.
Compared to algae blooms, which are known to produce toxic chemicals, the phytoplankton found in the Jersey shore is not considered an annual occurrence and doesn't pose any threat to the local marine life.
Phytoplankton In Jersey Shore
Phytoplankton, also known as microalgae, are microscopic organisms that live in the upper layer of bodies of water often exposed to sunlight. Their placement allows them to collect energy from the sun and combine it with chlorophyll and other nutrients to feed themselves similar to terrestrial plants.
According to Prof. Elizabeth Lacey, a marine scientist from Stockton University, it is the chlorophyll in the phytoplankton's bodies that allows them to give off a greenish appearance in the water.
To produce such a phenomenon, the microorganisms typically have to use up all available nutrients found in polluted inland waters.
However, it was a recent upwelling that helped turn the ocean in New Jersey aquamarine. An upwelling occurs when gusts of wind blow away surface waters from the shoreline, allowing cooler and nutrient-filled waters from below to rise and replace them.
Marine scientist Oscar Schofield from Rutgers University said upwellings often occur during summertime, making it possible for phytoplankton to bloom at a larger scale.
He said that these upwelling events can occur several times every summer and cause massive phytoplankton blooms to discolor bodies of water.
Clearing Of Ocean Water
The presence of phytoplankton blooms can help explain why New Jersey's waters suddenly turned aquamarine, but it doesn't reveal why the shoreline became unusually clear as well. This may have something to do more with an environmental event that is happening a little bit more inland.
The Northeast has been suffering from abnormally dry conditions for the past few months. Scientists think that the significant reduction of freshwater runoffs making their way to the ocean is causing Jersey shore waters to become clearer than normal.
While waters around New Jersey may appear tropical at the moment, experts warn that it doesn't necessarily mean that they would feel like those found in the Caribbean.
The recent upwelling of the waters caused ocean temperatures to drop to about 60 degrees last week. Scientists noted that waters in New Jersey's bays and farther offshore also became warmer than normal.
Temperatures have since warmed in waters near the shore, reaching somewhere between 70 and 75 degrees.
So far, it is still uncertain how long the ocean around South Jersey will stay green. Experts believe a sudden shift in wind could move the phytoplankton population and cause the waters to change color again.
However, as long as conditions remain the same in the coming days, the microorganisms will continue to make the ocean look green.