Experts: Tropically tinted ocean courtesy of phytoplankton bloom

     Building surf during sunrise in South Seaside Park Wednesday morning. (Photo: Justin Auciello/JSHN)

    Building surf during sunrise in South Seaside Park Wednesday morning. (Photo: Justin Auciello/JSHN)

    A New Jersey marine science professor says the blooming of tiny marine plants off the coast of southern New Jersey has caused the waters to become a shade of aquamarine.

    Elizabeth Lacey, assistant professor of marine science at Stockton University in Galloway, tells the Press of Atlantic City the phytoplankton population grew rapidly last week due to a recent upward flow of cool ocean water.

    NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) captured a natural-color image of the phytoplankton bloom on July 6.

    “Given adequate sunlight and nutrients, phytoplankton populations can explode into blooms large enough to be visible from space,” a NASA release states.

    Lacey says the plants reflect turquoise-green wavelengths through the water, particularly in the sunlight. She says the bloom is harmless to people and that the plants aren’t bigger than the dot of a pencil.

    The bloom is occurring due to upwelling, which occurs when winds blow surface waters away from the coast resulting in cooler, often nutrient-rich water rising to the surface. 

    Oscar Schofield, a marine scientist at Rutgers University, said the wind-driven upwelling is reflected in relatively cold water temperatures off the Jersey Shore.

    “These upwellings occur every summer and fuel large phytoplankton blooms,” he said. “Studies have suggested these summer upwelling events occur several times each summer and lead to large blooms that can discolor the water.”

    The water has become even clearer due to an ongoing drought in the area.

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    The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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