Red tides make for phenomenal show

Phytoplankton bioluminescence: red tides are common, but this most recent event is substantial. The Devil Wind blows. Fire crews prepare, homeowners stress and surfers rejoice. These are two of the many interesting phenomena observable in San Diego.
Red tides are caused by extensive blooms of microscopic organisms called phytoplankton. By day, the ocean has a crimson, murky appearance, by night the plankton show. Breaking waves take on a blue, psychedelic glow as the plankton are agitated and exposed to the air. Surfing in the nighttime red tide is otherworldly! Bioluminescence is the ability of some organisms to give off light through chemical reactions.
Although this recent red tide is not dangerous to humans, red tides can suffocate smaller bodies of water. It is hypothesized that the extra strong bloom this year is caused by an increase of sewage and/or agricultural run-off into the ocean. Water temperature and various other factors also impact the growth of plankton, the source for much of the atmosphere’s oxygen and backbone of our food chains.
Santa Ana Winds are responsible for stoking some of largest wildfires in the history of the United States. CalFire states that the Cedar Fire of 2003 burned almost 300,000 acres of East County San Diego and the wildfires of 2007 burned over 500,000 acres between Santa Barbara and San Diego.
Wind is the movement of air from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. The sun heats our planet unevenly, causing these pressure differences. In autumn, high pressure sometimes forms over the Great Basin, a high desert region to our northeast. Meanwhile, the North Pacific Ocean begins to develop the low-pressure systems associated with our wintertime surf swells and precipitation. Air flows from the high to low pressure, always attempting to equalize.
According to Meteorologist Nathan Cool, “Southern California is often lined up on the south side of the high, where the high pressure’s clockwise spin lines up a wind tunnel over our area.” The winds are not dry and warm because they come from the desert, a common misconception. As they pass over various mountain ranges, headed towards sea level, the air is compressed rapidly and thus heated.
Although a natural phenomena and important to the health of our chaparral biomes, frequent wildfires threaten homes and damage the virility of our ecosystems. I recently watched CalFire and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation inmate firefighters battle the Great Fire near Julian and Anza Borrego State Desert Park. It was an amazing display of organization and effort — planes, helicopters, bulldozers and ground crews, all working tirelessly to protect our community.
Santa Ana winds blow from the east to the west. This provides San Diego surfers the rare opportunity for offshore conditions. The wind blowing out to sea meets the face of the breaking wave, standing it up and grooming it clean. If there is solid swell approaching at the same time, epic surfing conditions ensue. The Santa Ana event of October 2007 saw a solid combo swell from the northwest and southwest, creating all-time classic conditions. These epic days of surf literally saw a dark cloud form over them from the tragedy unfolding in the Easy County.
The red tide is subsiding after a solid month of blooming. As autumn progresses, circumstances align for Santa Ana winds blowing from the high desert down the mountains and out to sea. Here’s hoping for safe homes and plentiful combo swells!

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