Why the Pacific Ocean Turned Pink Off the California Coast

Pink-tinged waves washed up on a San Diego beach in southern California on January 20, offering anyone walking the beach a rare sight.

Pepto Bismol-colored waters were spotted at Torrey Pines State Beach and Nature Reserve, where UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography is conducting an experiment.

University researchers injected a non-toxic pink dye into the water to observe how fresh water from inland areas, such as rivers and estuaries, interact with the surf zone as it flows into the ocean.

Scripps said in a statement posted online that it is partnering with the University of Washington on the experiment, which will continue through February. The launch of the first tint, on January 20, is scheduled to be followed by two more, in late January and early February.

In January and February 2023, UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and researchers at the University of Washington conducted a pink-dye experiment, titled Plumes in Near-Coastal Conditions, or PiNC, to study how small freshwater flows interact with the surf zone.

In January and February 2023, UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and researchers at the University of Washington conducted a pink-dye experiment, titled Plumes in Near-Coastal Conditions, or PiNC, to study how small freshwater flows interact with the surf zone.


Scripps Institution of Oceanography/Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego

In January and February 2023, UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and researchers at the University of Washington conducted a pink-dye experiment, titled Plumes in Near-Coastal Conditions, or PiNC, to study how small freshwater flows interact with the surf zone.

In January and February 2023, UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and researchers at the University of Washington conducted a pink-dye experiment, titled Plumes in Near-Coastal Conditions, or PiNC, to study how small freshwater flows interact with the surf zone.


Erik Jepsen, Scripps Institution/Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego

In January and February 2023, UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and researchers at the University of Washington conducted a pink-dye experiment, titled Plumes in Near-Coastal Conditions, or PiNC, to study how small freshwater flows interact with the surf zone.

In January and February 2023, UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and researchers at the University of Washington conducted a pink-dye experiment, titled Plumes in Near-Coastal Conditions, or PiNC, to study how small freshwater flows interact with the surf zone.


Scripps Institution of Oceanography


In January and February 2023, UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and researchers at the University of Washington conducted an experiment using a pink dye. (Erik Jepsen, Scripps Institution/Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego)

When rivers and estuaries discharge into the ocean, they carry sediment and pollutants, and “little is known about how these more buoyant, fresher water columns interact with the denser, saltier, and often cooler ocean environment nearby.” from the coast, particularly when the columns meet the breaking waves”. ”, said the institution.

Researchers are pouring the pink dye into freshwater within the reserve’s estuary, and it allows them to track and study the water as it flows into the ocean.

“I am excited because this research has not been done before and it is a truly unique experiment,” Scripps coastal oceanographer Sarah Giddings, who is leading the study, said in a statement. “…We will combine the results of this experiment with an older field study and computer modeling that will allow us to advance our understanding of how these plumes propagate.”



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