Why the Jersey Shore suddenly looks like the Caribbean

Phytoplankton off the coast of New Jersey from a NASA satellite photo taken July 7, 2016. The blooms are fueled by upwelling, which occurs when winds blow surface waters away. That allows the deeper, cooler waters to well up.

If you've been to the Jersey shore in recent weeks, you might have wondered why the usually brownish-green North Atlantic suddenly seems to resemble the Caribbean.

The uncharacteristically blue-green hue of the Atlantic is the result of phytoplankton and unusual weather conditions.  But, if you haven't seen it, now is the time to go - it may not last much longer.

NASA satellites have captured the color from space on its Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on July 6.  In fact, NASA has a good explainer here on the phenomenon.

The tropical tint has been around for at least ten days now, Atlantic City Cruises Owner Jeff George told The Press of Atlantic City

More phytoplankton – a microscopic plant that lives in water and contains the pigment chlorophyll – has been in bloom due to a process known as upwelling, where cold water rises to the surface of the ocean, Stockton University Assistant Professor of Marine Science Elizabeth Lacey explained to the The Press.

When wind blows surface water away, the deeper, cooler water rises up, according to NASA’s website. The pigment causes the plant to reflect blue-green wavelengths of light.

Drier weather also helps explain the unusual clarity of the Atlantic. National Weather Service Hydrologist Bill Marosi told The Press that two-thirds of the Northeast has been drier than normal, causing less river flow. The lack of runoff means a clearer Atlantic.

But the familiar chill of the Jersey shore waters remain, as meteorologist Jim Eberwine told The Press water temperatures remained in the 60s last week, due to the rising cooler water.

Since wind can move the phytoplankton, the picture-worthy pigment may not last for long, Rutgers Marine Sciences Professor Bob Chant told the Press.

According to NASA, phytoplankton can sometimes deplete an ocean’s oxygen and produce toxins affecting both humans and marine life. But the populations tend to be harmless and provide a source of nutrients to aquatic animals.​

Social media users have been able to captures startling images of the transformation.