el diablo robotico (platypus) wrote,
el diablo robotico

We're having another "red tide". Bioluminescent dinoflagellates for everybody! This happens once or twice a year, in the spring and/or fall, so I've seen it a handful of times, but what I saw this weekend was the most spectacular yet. The dinoflagellates emit a bright aqua blue light when they're disturbed, so the crests of incoming waves flash blue. The glowing starts as a point, and then blooms across the whole wave in a flash. Gorgeous.

On Friday night, Ken and I stopped at the beach on our way home from the fair, and stayed for perhaps half an hour to watch the waves. It was cloudy, a bit pinkish with city skyglow but at least the moonlight was blocked. The waves were stunning, electric blue as bright as Ken's indiglo watch face. I waded in and filled a water bottle to take home; later, when we turned the lights out and shook it, it nearly lit the room (though only for the first instant it was being shaken). With that small a source, the light was more clear to yellowish than blue, but it was still spectacular. What I liked best was that after I'd shake the bottle and put it back down, individual critters would keep flashing for a moment, here and there, like twinkling stars. The dinoflagellates themselves are invisible to the eye -- I've read that the little light specks are a hundred times the size of the creatures making them. I got up a few times during the night, just to tap the bottle gently and get a little flare of light, then watch those flickering stars slowly dying back down into darkness. It's like having a galaxy in a jar.

On Saturday night, after we did a local night cache (more on that in another entry), we went back to the beach with my camera.

I wasn't expecting much, but I thought it would be fun to try to take some pictures of the waves. I like experimenting with longer exposures, but I wasn't sure if the usually-brief flash of light would register at all. I don't have a proper photographic tripod, so Ken helped me strap the Ultrapod to the Astroscan's tripod. I soon discovered that I couldn't use my usual technique of leaving the camera on two-second delay to avoid camera shake -- the waves weren't predictable enough to give two seconds' notice. Given that the water was in constant motion, a little camera shake wasn't the end of the world, but Jupiter had a ghost image in every shot I took. (I photoshopped it away as best I could.) I experimented with exposures from 3.2 - 8 seconds, and bumped the ISO up to 200 about halfway through. Some of the early results on ISO 50 were acually okay if I played with the levels in Photoshop; they ended up grainy, but then, so did the ISO 200 shots. If anyone knows of a noise-reduction plugin for Mac Photoshop, I'd love to hear about it. It's ironic that in all the photography groups I read, most people are PC users, and there's plenty of stuff out there for Windows Photoshop.

Disclaimers aside, here's what I got (in chronological order):

Just a hint of blue beginning on the crest of a wave. Saturday night was not overcast, and there was a bright gibbous moon just off to the left of most of these shots. Between that and the fact that we were in the city, there's a lot of ambient light in these shots. The brighter stripes in the foreground are the headlights of passing cars shining on the sand.

This was a nice bright one. In person, it was not quite so bright, though for an instant it came close.

I was taking a break from trying to predict waves, and took a picture of the moonlight on the water. To my surprise I got a little bit of blue wave in the moonlight!


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