Unusual Ocean Dye Experiment for Central Oregon Coast Next Week
(Newport, Oregon) – If you see the ocean turn a bright green later next week in the Newport area, don’t be surprised.
Researchers from OSU and the Hatfield Marine Science Center will be creating just such a display on July 14, starting around 8 a.m., as part of an experiment to track the movement of water in the near-shore environment. It means actually dropping bright, fluorescent green dye into the ocean, a substance called fluorescein which is absolutely harmless to marine life.
It is the same stuff doctors use to drop in your eyes to check eyesight and to track blood flow through the heart. It’s used to color many foods as well.
OSU oceanographer Kipp Shearman is heading up the project and said for a for a while the ocean will turn a kind of “a Gatorade green,” and then disappear after a few hours of sunlight.
The test will be conducted around Yaquina Head in the central Oregon coast town.
“It is pretty spectacular and should be visible from Yaquina Head,” Shearman said. “But it’s also a powerful tool for accurately measuring fluid movement, which you can’t do as well with other methods, such as drifters. Fluid can move vertically in the ocean and it can diffuse, and the dye will help us track those movements.”
Weather may delay the experiment for a day.
Six samples of the bright stuff will be put into the ocean.
Shearman said the Yaquina Head area was chosen because it is fairly representative of waters around a coastal headland, plus it’s close to the Hatfield. Also, the infrastructure of the research cameras atop the headland are there as well.
Those surf cams for Yaquina Head that are so fun to check out on the web are there to study the surf, it turns out.
Shearman said learning more about near-shore water movement is important because marine organisms living in the intertidal zone or on the beach - including Dungeness crabs, clams and mussels – disperse larva that needs to go out to deeper ocean waters for those species to repopulate. Circulation in this nearshore region is also important in gauging the effects of pollution, contamination from oil spills and the movement of sediment.
Shearman said it’s a bit of a surprise, but scientists don’t know all that much about water movement just off our own shore.
“It seems so basic and fundamental, but we just don’t know that much about it,” he said. “We know a lot about ocean currents, waves and upwelling, but how water moves from the rocks and surf zone out to the coastal ocean hasn’t been well-documented. One reason is that it’s a tough place to study. OSU’s ships – the Elakha and Wecoma – can’t get in there easily.”
Researchers will head out on a private boat to drop the dye, letting them go between the surf zone and a reef about a mile offshore - just south of the Yaquina Head lighthouse. They will dispense about a liter of water that has 200 grams of the fluorescein dye.
The dye will disperse and leave trails of bright green water behind - at least, for a few hours - that will be tracked by OSU’s Coastal Imaging Lab cameras located on Yaquina Head. By sunset, the dye should be gone.
If any onlookers take pictures, they can help with the science by emailing the photos to
This pilot project will be directed by students under the supervision of faculty from OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, including Shearman, Jim Lerczak and Jonathan Nash. Leading the project will be Allison Einholf, an undergraduate student from Macalester College who is at OSU this summer as part of the National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program, and newly arrived OSU doctoral student Alejandra Sanchez.
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