Scientists Are Dyeing The Ocean Pink For A Confusing Reason

Scientists from the University of California San Diego have dumped pink dye into the ocean in hopes of tracking how freshwater outflows interact with the ocean.

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Published


Pink is the new blue. At least for a chunk of the Pacific Ocean, it is. Per The Byte, scientists at the University of California San Diego dumped a vat of environmentally safe pink dye in the water at a local beach to track how small freshwater outflows interact with breaking waves.

While the now pink water might be a distracting sight to drivers passing by, don’t be alarmed! It’s not the aftermath of a particularly violent shark attack. It’s just pink dye that is helping scientists track the interactions of freshwater plumes with the surf zone.

While the color pink might look a little gruesome on the water, it was specifically chosen from the color wheel because of its striking contrast with the blueish-green of the natural ocean water.

So why are researchers coloring the ocean water and tracking the flow? Their hope is that the results of the investigation will help provide essential insights regarding the depositing of foreign materials (including sediments, human-caused pollutants, and other contaminants) into the ocean via routes like estuaries.

The pink dye is only one of many tools the researchers are using in this ocean study. The pink pigment will help the plumes of freshwater be more easily seen both by the scientists and their technology. The study is using a combination of drones, ground-bound sensors, and water-submerged sensors to track the pigment as well as water temperature and the height of waves.

The first experiment in the pink ocean study has already been completed, and researchers are currently getting ready to go back out into the field in early February. While it is still too early in the study to publish definite findings, the scientists on the project are excited at what they might discover as the project continues.

Sarah Giddings from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography is the lead oceanographer on the project. Giddings explained in a press release from the institution how unique a study like the pink dye project is and that similar projects have not been done before. However, there is one older field study that Giddings believes will be helpful to their investigation, as well as computer models that the scientific team will use in combination with their study to understand better how the freshwater plumes spread in the ocean.

While using pink pigment in the ocean is not unprecedented, it is the scope of Gidding’s project that makes this experiment so unique. According to Giddings, most of the previous research on ocean plumes has been done on a larger scale, and this team’s research on small-scale freshwater plumes converging with waves in the surf zone could be groundbreaking. The team hopes that their finding will fill in some missing gaps in that area of oceanography. 

In addition to helping us understand how freshwater plumes work, learning more about the convergence of plumes in the surf zone could be useful in helping to protect the world’s oceans from pollutants caused by human society.