Weather Education

Glowing Water at Dauphin Island

A beautiful day on the beach: listening to the water; watching the sights; enjoying the view. Some people enjoy the soothing sounds of the waves, while others will be on the lookout for sea shells. It turns out that if you look hard enough, and long enough, especially at night, you might see something a little different. A calm early October evening becomes a different night on Dauphin Island for vacationers like Michael Jones from Tennessee.

"I kept noticing, out of the corner of my eye, the waves would crash on the beach and they kind of had a funny color. Light was actually coming from the waves. Several other people had noticed what was going on, as well."

Michael’s photos showed the light or the luminescence in the water, a lot brighter than what it really was. That’s because the pictures were long time exposures, in high-sensitivity mode, instead of the quick automatic snapshots that most of us take.

"The pictures were beautiful," says Dr Jeffrey Krause. He's a researcher at Dauphin Island Sea Lab. "The organisms that were most likely creating the luminescence were dinoflagellates- a type of phytoplankton. They are cosmopolitan. They are found everywhere."

Tiny phytoplankton, known as Noctiluca Scintillans, which roughly translates to night-shining sparkle- In the millions, they create bioluminescence.

"…and boaters might have seen it in the bow wakes of waves at night, they can see a little luminescence."

Michael Jones was surprised. "I thought it was something that you could only see in the Bahamas, and in other parts of the world. I didn’t realize that that was something that was visible, literally, right in our own backyard. "

Alan Sealls, News 5.

There is another type of bioluminescence that many of us are more familiar with- fireflies, or lightning bugs.

Read more about Dinoflagellate Biluminescence from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and learn more about Noctiluca Scintillans, which are also called Sea Sparkle or Sea Tinkle.


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