Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Glitter in the Ocean
Name: Victoria
Status: other
Grade: other
Location: FL
Date: August 2008

Question:
While in the ocean (salt water) at night during turtle season..it was also lighting out but was far away..there were white sparkles looking like large glitter around our bodies. Also when we would lift our bodies out of the water they would fall off with the water flow coming off our bodies. while in the water if we would move fast there was a glow making the water lighting up for that breif moment...what could it be?



Replies:
What you are seeing is luminescent plankton, called dinoflagelates, which produce light in much the same way that glow worms and fire flies do.

It is believed that they glow when disturbed as a way to deter predators. Dinoflagelates would be eaten by shrimp and other small animals, but who wants a meal that acts like a traffic light to tell all the bigger fish where you are?

Nigel Skelton


Hello Victoria,

This phenomenon you observed was most likely caused by "bioluminescent" dinoflagellates, as these microorganisms are known to produce the effect of emitting light when they are disturbed. These are also known as marine plankton or phytoplankton. Examples of these creatures are the species that create "red tide" which is harmful to fish and irritating to people. However, not all dinoflagellates are dangerous, nor do all dinoflagellates exhibit this glowing effect. For the species that do luminesce, when they are in heavy bloom, you can sometimes observe that crashing ocean waves "glow" at night as well. It is thought that this may be a means of communication between the organisms called "quorum sensing"; which may aid in behavior coordination.

Hope this helps,

Joel Jadus



Click here to return to the General Topics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory