Aerial photographs were recently taken just offshore from Sanibel that were uncommon. The news reported it as a ‘white blob’ in the Gulf of Mexico. Although uncommon, it is a natural, innocuous, interesting event, that we really know very little about.
Aquatic biologists call these events a whiting event. They occur in both fresh water lakes and in ocean environments – most commonly in middle or late summer. The white, sandy-looking water is created by calcium carbonate precipitating out of water – when minute molecules of calcium carbonate that were dissolved in sea water change phase to become solids, suspended in the water.
These tiny suspended calcium carbonate particles give the water a very sandy, milky appearance. The conditions that create whiting events are not well understood, but most seem to be facilitated by high densities of phytoplankton populations. The photosynthesis of the phytoplankton, coupled with warm water temperatures, makes the chemical conditions ideal for the precipitation of the dissolved calcium carbonate.
For me, this whiting event is a reminder of several things. One, we really know very little about the biological system that we are dependent upon for our survival, and spatially is very close to high density human populations. Secondly, the ocean is really a collection of independent smaller bodies of water adjoining one another like a great, three-dimensional quilt. Our whiting event has moved with the currents to other geographic areas, and eventually the conditions that promote this event will cease to exist.
And perhaps most importantly, whiting events serve to remind us that, in this information-rich age, the ocean is a fascinating, complex environment, full of discoveries yet to be observed and understood – right in our backyard.