Portion of Pacific Ocean turns pink off California coast — and it will happen again

UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Researchers turned a portion of the seawater off the coast pink “in the name of science,” a California university said.

University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Washington conducted an experiment near Torrey Pines “to study how small freshwater outflows interact with the surfzone,” according to a news release.

The first bit of environmentally safe pink dye was released on Jan. 20 where freshwater met the sea, according to the university. The other two releases are planned for later this month and early February.

The dye was released during the ocean’s ebb tide, when the levels fall, the release said. Once released, the dye is visible by the “naked eye for several hours” and “small traces detectable by instruments for approximately 24 hours.”

The “Plumes in Nearshore Conditions” project aims to analyze and further understand “the interactions between small river plumes and the surfzone,” according to the project’s website.

“I’m excited because this research hasn’t been done before and it’s a really unique experiment,” Scripps coastal oceanographer Sarah Giddings, who is leading the PiNC study, said in the release. “We’re bringing together a lot of different people with different expertise, such that I think it’s going to have some really great results and impacts. We will combine results from this experiment with an older field study and computer models that will allow us to make progress on understanding how these plumes spread.”

The bright pink water will be tracked by researchers using “drones, sensors affixed to poles in the sand in the river mouth and surfzone, and a jet ski” with a device attached that measures the amount of light that the dye gives off, officials said.

Researchers said “the results of this study will provide crucial data for quantifying the spread of sediment, pollutants, larvae, and other important material in the nearshore environment.”

Scripps Oceanography scientists have done a similar experiment in the past.

In 2015, pink dye was used in an international study tracking how pollution travels across beach waters near the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said.

Torrey Pines is about 15 miles northwest of downtown San Diego.

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